A Reasonable Tone…and Why It’s Music to Our Ears

Composers know how to use tone for maximum effect. Watch this clip from composer Philip Glass’s “Koyaanisquatsi.” This piece uses different sounds and visuals to create tones that elicit an audience response.

Tone is also a part of framing your message.  Tone influences the type of response you get from your audience.

Often with social policy issues, tone becomes dissonant, like certain kinds of music.  It becomes hard to listen to. At FrameWorks, we call this a rhetorical tone. A rhetorical tone is one that is partisan, ideological, and opinionated. When social problems are communicated in a rhetorical tone, audiences tend to respond with skepticism regarding the messenger’s motives. They hear that this is about politics and factionalizing and are less likely to be open to new information and solutions-based thinking.

So what can we do to tune-in with tone?

We can respond using a reasonable tone, which activates a villager approach and a can-do attitude. When people are presented with a reasonable discussion of the problem, its causes, and potential solutions, they are much better at understanding and processing new information. Your audience begins to think about how to solve the problem rather than how to identify the agendas of the messengers.

Here is a brief check list for tuning in to tone:

  • Make sure you are not inadvertently communicating partisan or political cues.
  • Establish a reasonable tone, and set up a problem-solving and an “American can-do” attitude to engage your audience.
  • Use a strong value to provide a universal, rather than a narrow partisan cue, as the standard by which the issue should be evaluated.
  • Use tone to reinforce other frame elements, not to undermine them. (For example, if you are calling for more supportive public policies, don’t sound harsh or extreme.)

For more information, see this FrameWorks FrameByte on tone.

What communications materials can you create that play to the tune of a reasonable tone?


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