Did you ever play with a tape recorder when your were a child? My brothers and I did. We always commented, "That doesn't sound like my voice!" That reality was, of course, because we hear our voices from inside our head when we speak, but outside of our heads when played back. If we want to know how we sound to others, we have to hear a playback of ourselves.
Sometimes, it is more than just the pitch and resonance of our voice we don't hear correctly. Often, we don't really hear the words we are saying, or the tone we're speaking with. And no, I'm not being The Tone Police, and saying that hard words ought to be done away with. I think it is good to have dialogue, and no, we should not avoid difficult topics.
Just as we are limited audibly to how we hear ourselves, there are times we have an impairment to how we perceive how our words have come out. They sound find to us, but in reality, if we could hear from the outside, the words were unkind, harsh, sarcastic, and condescending. We, however, are oblivious.
I'm positive that there have been far too many occasions to count where I have said something and not realized how unkind it was. It is as if I hear it "in my head," and not how the other person heard it. In reality, it was rude and condescending, and I was too wrapped up in my own sense of being right to hear it.
The book of James has such pointed things to say about how we speak:
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.
7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,
8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?
12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
Of course, we've all read these verses. We know how we're to speak. But we become offended, or we get on our high horse, or we just think everyone should react like we do.
One area where I see this, and where it bothers me, is when people justify harsh speech by saying they confronting error or heresy. Apparently, as long as you believe the other person is being unbiblical, it is okay to abandon kindness and patience. By all means, go ahead and address error, but it is possible to be kind about it without sacrificing one's commitment. Grace is not to be cast aside when we address error. God did not withdraw His grace from me when I was still a sinner, and repeatly rejected Him. He was longsuffering and patient.
I have watched people address error well. I've seen it done kindly, gently, patiently, without acrimony. It's possible. And if we're not sure how we're coming across, we can always use our expensive techno toys to record ourselves and play it back.