• Nicola Shelley

A slip of the tone

Updated: Aug 4, 2019


This blog is for anyone who believes they have said the right thing but it was taken the wrong way. And it’s also about the Thai word for banana.



About 20 years ago I was living and working in Bangkok. As I was going to be there for at least 2 years I thought it would be a good idea to learn some rudimentary Thai, so that I could at least make myself understood in a taxi, conduct a very basic conversation and do more than just point and smile when at the market. A lovely Thai teacher turned up at our home, armed with a basket of fruit and we began with the important basics, learning the name of fruit namely, pineapple, banana and mango.

Saying the names for pineapple and mango posed no problem, but the banana did. It seemed that if the tone was rising in the wrong place you could be asking for much more than a banana. 😉 The Thai people were patient with us and a lot of pointing obviously helped- clearly, we weren’t asking for a water buffalo (or something else) at the fruit market!


Many years later, back in England on my NLP training course, we had a long discussion around tone of voice. It had never occurred to me that the way we use tone is not unlike the Thai language, in that it can mean something completely different. Because we can say the right words, but with a slight slip of the tone, we are in trouble. Or misinterpreted. And yes of course it’s obvious and we know it and yet we still do it.


How many ‘sorrys’ have you heard that are meaningless because of the way they are spoken?


How many ‘Can I help?’ have we heard that sound disgruntled, frustrated and annoyed?


Interestingly, we can match the tone of the person and find ourselves in the same mood, very quickly. By that I mean in a matter of seconds. Conversely by mismatching the tone we can change the mood too.



It’s one to experiment with. If you’re on the receiving end of a bad tone of voice, try mismatching it with a genuinely kind and courteous one. This is the one you experiment with!


The opposite- mismatching a pleasant tone - is the one to listen out for only!


Our communication with one another is so much more than just the words we say. If you’re interested in finding out more about communication, both listening and speaking with an NLP twist please do join me on 15th November from 10 – midday. More details here

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