Hearing Yourself as Others Read You

We don’t always realize the tone or mood we’re projecting in words

Anne Janzer
3 min readFeb 24

Did you know that your brain has a “mute” button for your speaking voice? When you speak, it dampens the reception of sound waves through the air, prioritizing the sound generated from the vibrations inside your head.

That’s why our voices sound so strange to us on recordings. We grow accustomed to a more resonant voice in our heads. (It’s also why our own singing doesn’t hurt our ears, but the person belting next to us does.)

Is there a parallel in writing?

When we read what we’ve written, we remember the nuanced overtones of what we said, the richness of thought that led us to the words. We know the mood we planned to convey.

But the reader sees only what’s on the page or screen, and supplies their own context and overtones. Often, the prose seems flat.

Worse, the reader may misinterpret mood entirely.

How do others read you?

In a study titled Egocentrism Over Email, researchers found that most people completely overestimated how well others would interpret the tone of an email. On the flip side, readers felt great confidence that they had interpreted the tone correctly.

According to the study’s authors, “People routinely overestimate how well they can communicate over email, particularly when the meaning of the message is ambiguous.”

Yikes. We cannot really hear how we show up in writing.

What should we do?

Get an outside perspective

To get a sense of our writing voice, we need space or get an outside perspective. Editors, beta readers, and can function like tape recorders, letting us know how we really sound.

If that’s not available, try putting yourself into a different mood altogether.

Try on different perspectives

The authors of the email study found a cure for overconfidence about tone: read aloud the message you are writing in a different mood altogether.

Anne Janzer

Author, Writing Coach, Unapologetic Nonfiction Geek. Writing about Writing Itself (very meta). AnneJanzer.com