What you say often matters less than how you say it. A negative tone of voice can spoil the happiest message. That’s why marketers try to avoid negativity, both in message content and the ways they write and speak. However, the concept of tone can be confusing, and you can’t rely on a simple list of negative tone words to avoid mistakes.
Instead, focus on the sound of your brand’s voice, striving for an inviting tone that encourages authentic human connection. Still confused? These five examples of negative tone of voice will help you create the best possible experiences for your audience, in writing or speech—including scaled-up synthetic speech with conversational artificial intelligence (AI) and custom-built text-to-speech (TTS) voices.
Struggling with robotic synthetic voices in your voicebots, smart speaker apps, or voice user interfaces? Learn more about lifelike TTS brand voices from ReadSpeaker AI.
Defining Negative Tones of Voice in Brand Communications
Tone of voice is a slippery concept. It’s a phrase we use to describe the feelings associated with language. In writing, that may be a question of word choice or style.
In speech, tone refers to the emotional quality of expression. Think of the mom saying, “I don’t like your tone of voice!” to her angry child. But speaking tone is also important in a business context. For example, imagine a friendly customer service agent who wins over callers with a positive speaking tone. Then imagine an agent who always sounds disappointed. The first employee will probably get better results.
As we work to eliminate negative tone, then, we actually need two definitions, one for speech and one for writing.
- Negative tones in writing are created by word choice, punctuation, and other elements of text that suggest negative feelings about the subject of the sentence. Negative words can lead to negative tones; there’s no mistaking the intent of a sentence like, “Our competitors are bad.” But it’s all too easy to slip into an unfriendly tone by accident, even with something like quotation marks. “I really enjoyed that presentation” does not mean the same thing as “I really ‘enjoyed’ that presentation.” It’s the same words with opposite tones. Note how the italics and quotation marks in that last example represent vocal sarcasm; this hints at the complex interplay between spoken and written speech—and leads us to our next definition.
- Negative tones in speech are qualities of expression that reveal unhappy attitudes toward the subject—or even the listener. These vocal qualities may include pitch, volume, rhythm, and more, but in a sad or angry speaker, they add up to share that emotion. The same is true for synthetic speech. If you use a poor-quality TTS voice that never varies pace or pitch, your audience is likely to get annoyed. A tone you thought was neutral may convey boredom or disinterest, which are hallmarks of a negative speaking tone, regardless of intent.
As a professional communicator with copy to file and conversations to carry, these definitions can only take you so far. Let’s look at a few concrete examples to drive the point home.
5 Negative Tone Examples in Speech and Writing
Even if you’re still a bit unclear on the substance of negative tones of voice, avoiding the following mistakes can help brighten your language:
- Not giving enough context. A surprising number of English words describe comments that are short to the point of rudeness: curt, terse, brusque, snappish. Clearly this is a common error in communications, and it applies to both spoken and written speech. In writing, think of a text message we’ve all received: “okay.” Maybe the writer was just busy, but maybe they’re mad. Either way, odds are you don’t feel great on the receiving end of that text. Make sure to provide a full and thoughtful response in every conversation.
- Lack of individualism. This example applies primarily to speech, and it’s a major hazard in the adoption of branded smart speaker apps. Many companies launch an Amazon Alexa skill without their own TTS voice, for instance. That allows Alexa to speak for them, giving up brand equity and confusing listeners who struggle to locate the personality behind the voice. Consumers don’t want the voice of their cooking timer to narrate a brand experience they expect to enjoy. A unique TTS voice that expresses your brand traits creates a better—and more valuable—customer experience.
- Mismatching style and subject. We tend to associate a positive tone of voice with excitement or happiness. In some conversations, these qualities actually create a negative experience. Customer service agents in the banking and insurance industries, just to name a few, often have difficult conversations. Maybe the customer is declaring bankruptcy or reporting a death. In these cases, a traditionally positive tone can be upsetting. Talented agents know how to use tone to match the caller’s emotional state. Emotionally responsive TTS can bring the same sensitivity to smart interactive voice response (IVR) systems and other conversational AI solutions.
- Cultural misunderstandings. In the United States, pants are the outer clothes we wear from waist to ankle. In the United Kingdom, pants are underwear. It’s a language mishap waiting to happen for any global marketer, and that’s just in English. Opportunities for confusion—and unintentional negative tones of voice—multiply across languages and cultures. In writing or in speech, an appropriate tone is only possible when you know your audience inside and out.
- Monotonous style. Say you get an email from your boss: “There will be a meeting. The meeting will be Thursday. The meeting will be at 10 a.m. The meeting will last for one hour. The meeting will be about integrating sales and marketing.” Is she joking? Is she mad at you or bored with her job? Monotonous construction can create confusion and accidental negative tones in writing—and can be downright exasperating in spoken language. As speakers, we vary prosody to convey meaning and intent. In U.S. English, for example, a question ends on an up-note while statements tend to pitch down at the end. As you adopt conversational AI solutions, make sure your TTS voices are capable of matching speaking style to content. Otherwise, you risk veering into a negative tone that can threaten your relationship with consumers.
These examples of negative tone of voice show that the customer’s experience of your language is the ultimate measure of quality. That remains true in the growing Internet of Voice, the voice-first digital interactions that are helping brands scale their outreach to ever broader audiences.
Tone of Voice in Voice-First Marketing Channels
Many brands interact with consumers through smart speakers, voicebots, and other voice-based technologies on a daily basis. In 2021, smart speaker ownership alone ballooned to more than 90 million users in the U.S. As marketers enter this communication network, they should pay close attention to tone of voice. That’s true for both written text and language spoken by TTS voices, the technology that allows our devices to speak in real time.
In fact, the two types of language are intertwined in a TTS system. As the name implies, text to speech can only give voice to a written script. That script may be composed dynamically by natural language generation AI, or it may be written by a human. Either way, punctuation and other textual elements tell the TTS engine how to express the content out loud. When you avoid our examples of negative tone of voice in your written content, you may also keep them out of TTS communications.
To truly perfect your tone of voice, you also need the best that TTS technology can offer. ReadSpeaker AI brings more than 20 years of expertise to state-of-the-art TTS built on deep neural networks (DNN), an advanced form of machine learning that creates incredibly lifelike results—and we craft custom neural TTS voices to give brands unique and infinitely scalable synthetic speech. Our team of linguists, speech scientists, and AI engineers provides ongoing support to ensure perfect pronunciation—and the ideal tone—to all your digital voice communications.
If you’re looking for a powerful branding boost, reach out to learn what neural TTS from ReadSpeaker AI can do for you.