Attention, Tone & Subtext: A Communications Challenge

When I started PLANK, I mentioned that there might be some random musings … well today is one of those days. 

I was thinking the other day, as I was learning my script for Days of Our Lives, that it’s very interesting how you can take any sentence or phrase and say it at least 10 different ways … all with different subtext. As an actor, this is always interesting to explore, and there are even acting exercises dedicated to this very thing. 

This plays out in our everyday lives, too, in how we interact with people. As actors, we consider our character’s motivation and make conscious choices about how we deliver lines. But in life we often let emotion alone drive delivery … and sometimes our intention is lost in the mix.  Our communications can so easily be misunderstood, especially in today’s world where texting and emailing sometimes replace actual face-to-face conversations.

When people can’t see your face or hear your tone and inflection, it becomes easy to assume meanings that were never intended. Add to that the fact that people will say things in print that they would NEVER say to someone’s face and it’s easy to see how, in a world of increased communications tools, actual communication is maybe more difficult than ever. It really is crazy that this has become the norm.

Don’t get me wrong, I like texting for some things … like sending a quick heart or bitmoji to my kids to let them know I am thinking of them. But, while the convenience of these electronic forms of communication is great, nothing beats a real call or visit.

This is most important for me in my role as a parent. I’ve always tried to be a good attentive parent, and I’m committed to doing that until the day I die. So many people seem to peter out in this area … NOT ME. I believe it is my endless responsibility to be the one to reach out. My children are grown and busy navigating their own lives, but I don’t hesitate to check in, tell them how much I love them and ask about their lives. I pay attention to their responses and when we do have an actual conversation, I make it a point to REALLY LISTEN to them. Life can be crazy and it’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind of work or whatever is going on at the moment, but none of that is as important as them. 

Sometimes I’ll be in the market or something, and I’ll hear a parent just bark at their kids with such an annoyed tone.  I understand why, but maybe if they just stopped, gave them them their undivided attention and really listened to them, the kids would stop working overtime to get their attention. Yes, we’re all in a hurry to get home, make dinner or whatever, but in the scheme of our short lives, can’t all that wait?  
And it’s not just our time and attention, but also our tone. With our mates and co-workers, it is so important to be aware of our tone … whether spoken or written. Thinking back to that actor exercise … what’s your subtext? What’s your intention? And if you tried saying it a different way, would you get a different response?  
I always think kill them with kindness, but, now that I say that, I’m reminded of my Grandma Fox (the one who recommended the Spic & Span for your silver) … she used to say, “There are more ways to skin a cat than kissing it to death.” I never knew excactly what that meant, and maybe I have the saying wrong … but what I took from it was that sometimes you have to try different approaches to get to different results.
I think so often we get stuck in a pattern of the way we talk and relate to people, especially with our spouse and kids. And despite the fact that it’s not working, we can’t seem to break out of that mode.  So I am challenging you today to try a different approach, with different subtext and tone, and hopefully see how much nicer things can be. By all means say what you mean … just don’t say it mean. 


  1. Marnessa

    Mary Beth,
    I know so many people who need to read this!!!!!

  2. Oh wow I so agree! I’ve had so many problems with texting certain people and they think I’m mad at them when really, I’m just in a hurry haha. Great post! Will try to stay up on reading your are my favorite on Days!! Take care 😄

  3. Christie L

    Love love love. A reminder/challenge is always nice.

  4. I love this! So true. Sadly it took me well into my children’s up bringing to realize how much better they responded to me when I slowed down and gave them my undivided attention, even for just 5 mins. Even my husband has to ask me to slow down and stop and listen to him at times. Eek! Effective communication is so very important in all our relationships. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  5. Nancy McCarthy

    Love this one, MB. It’s so true about maybe taking things the wrong way when you don’t actually see or hear the person saying it! What sticks in my mind about today’s PLANK is what you said about your kids. Keeping in touch & being the one to still reach out, even though they are out on their own now. My son, Thomas, who is 20 years old, recently moved out of the house. I’m good now, but man was that hard for me! Harder than I thought. My kids are 9 years apart so Thomas was an only child for the first good chunk of his life, and we were thick as thieves! Now he’s in college full time, working when he’s not at school, and living with his girlfriend. For the first few weeks I was beside myself with worry! If I didn’t get a text or phone call within 24 hours of talking or texting with him, I would have him dead on the side of some road somewhere. I told him to just send me a text letting me know he’s ok. But he’s 20. He’s busy, and it’s not that he doesn’t want to call me, he just forgets. The great thing is that when I call or text him, he’s genuinely happy to hear from me & usually does all the talking (which I love). And he’s actually pretty good at popping in and/or texting/calling. But man, what an adjustment. I told him “I’ve spent the last 20+ years raising you, I can’t just turn that off!” But he’s a college student so I know I’ll see him if he needs money. 😉 And like you said, at this age the kids are busy navigating their lives. So it’s still up to us to reach out. When I’m an old woman & he’s got a family of his own, then he can be the one to check on me, but for now I’ll keep sending the “I love you” texts. Thanks for another great blog! ❤

  6. Hello Mary Beth!!
    Amen, Amen and Amen!! This was so good,such simply advice! I try daily intentional living with my girls and hubs! I have to see their eyes when we talk, so against their wishes, it’s put up the technology, while I “talk” to you!! I’ve never raised 16 and 13 year old daughters before, lol!! I know I’ll make mistakes but it wont be because of a lack of effort! I feel as a society if we lose the ability to communicate face to face we are in a world of hurt!
    And I agree with Granny Fox, there is definitely more than one way to skin a cat!! Loved everything about this Plank, keep’em coming!!

  7. Great blog! It is important to reach out to people by whatever means you are able but it is also important how you reach out to them. Words spoken, texted etc. can never be taken back. People on social media think that they can hide behind their words but remember there is always someone out there who knows you said those words.

  8. Mary Beth-
    I found your words today very inspirational and it struck a chord with me since I’m in the midst of raising my two young children (ages 9 and 5). Hand raised…I’m guilty of rushing from one task to the next just to keep my head above water and we all need that friendly reminder to slow down and really be present in our children’s lives.

    No doubt it is difficult to juggle a career, a house, a marriage and raising kids but we need reminders like this to slow things down and be there for our children.

    Ironically enough, I stumbled across this great blog today that had a similar message.

    So today I re-commit to taking a breath and truly invest in my time with my kids, through my tone, my attention and through my words.

    Thank you.

  9. Terri Martin

    This is such a great topic. I can very much relate to the “tone” issue in texts and emails. So many times something was taken wrong because the receiver read it with a tone that wasn’t intended. Lesson learned. I try very hard to not engage in anything that could be interpreted wrong in a text or email. As far as communicating with kids/hubby/humans face to face! Amen!!! We’re working on that intentionally in our house. If someone is speaking to me but looking down at a device, I stop talking…lol. It’s a conscious daily effort, but worth it!

  10. Mary Beth, that was sooo beautiful and very true!!!!! Life is very short and this world would be a much better place if we all tried to be kind and think more before we open our mouths.

    Maybe all Stefano needed was a little love and kindness to help him change his evil ways! hahaha!!!!

  11. Estella M

    I love everything about this. It’s so simple. Direct. True. I’ve gotten so much back lash throughout my life because I take people’s words (and their delivery of those words) very seriously. I’m prone to remember more of how a person makes me feel than anything else. I think it is so important to be held accountable for your words, and to be aware of their effect on others. What you say matters. Period. Words can be the fiercest of weapons. Listen before you speak. Words come out gentler that way.

  12. Very timely post. I’m in a very difficult situation with my sisters and I’m sure part of our problems stem from misunderstanding what the other is saying. Thank you for nudging me to be more mindful when I speak AND when I listen.

  13. Hi Mary Beth,

    I was just thinking about how much I needed the weekly dose of Plank this morning, and then you posted! So glad I got to read before class! Also, I love your Bitmoji!

    I don’t have kids yet, but I love your thoughts in today’s blog! I think that paying attention when people are talking is good for everyone! I have tried to do this more than I had been, and I think my relationships with some of my friends have definitely improved! Thanks for another great blog!

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