It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it


When I was in high school, lifting weights in the gym, I remember a song that played over and over on the radio. You might remember, “I never promised you a rose garden” by country singer Lynn Anderson.

If not, you can watch Ms. Anderson (and her big hair) on this video.

The song begins, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. . .” and that lyric is repeated throughout.

I heard that song so many times that eventually, I started playing around with the lyrics in my head. I changed the whole meaning of the title and primary lyric by emphasizing different words.

“I [emphasized] never promised you a rose garden.” Maybe it was someone else.

“I NEVER promised you a rose garden”. Nope, not once.

“I never PROMISED you a rose garden”. I might have mentioned it, but I never promised it.

“I never promised you a ROSE garden.” A garden, maybe, but not roses.

“I never promised you a rose GARDEN”. I said I’d plant a few roses, not a whole garden.

Crazy, but fun, especially for a word lover, and it passed the time while I was doing bench presses and squats.

Now, I’m not saying I think you don’t know the proper word to emphasize when you are speaking. I would NEVER think that. Okay, I might THINK that, but I would never say it.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the point is that while we probably don’t change the meaning of what we intend in such an obvious manner, we often do it in other, more subtle ways.

Suppose you’ve got a prospective client in your office and it’s time to talk about fees. You’re telling them the dollar amount they will have to pay. If you speed up your words even a little, or lower the volume of your voice, you might communicate that you are a little embarrassed about how much you charge, or afraid that they might say no. The same is true if you break eye contact.

Our body language and tonality often say things our words do not.

Our choice of words also matter. Telling the client that you hope to win isn’t the same as saying you expect to win. Saying you’ll do your best isn’t as good as saying you’ll do whatever it takes.

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.