Paralinguistic Communication Leads to More Perceptive Conversation

Being more aware of the subtle nuances of verbal communication can contribute significantly to better conversation and will promote a deeper understanding and connection with others as you become a more active speaker and listener.

Paralinguistic communication is the study of voice and how words are said. When you open your mouth to speak, you reveal much about yourself that often has nothing at all to do with the words you are speaking.

Paralinguistic signals and cues refer to every element and nuance of your speech. Paralinguistic communication can be much more subtle than other forms of nonverbal communication.

For example, a loud, booming voice is not at all subtle. However, a firm voice that conveys conviction is more nuanced than a pointing finger, big gestures, or invading someone’s personal space.

Here are some common paralinguistic vocal cues and examples:

In the United States, people from the Northeast speak faster than Southerners and generally men speak faster than women. Rapid rates of speech (and quickly coming up with a response) have been correlated with composure and self-assurance.

For example, to establish instant vocal rapport and a more subtle connection, speak at a rate or speed similar to the person you are communicating with in conversation.

International languages have unique rhythms. It is important to note this because the global language for business today is still English.

For example, a person from France speaks at a different speed and rhythm than someone from Singapore. A French person will generally speak English using a rhythmical pace similar to their native French language.

A Singaporean Chinese person, whose first language is Chinese, will likely speak using a rhythmical pace similar to their native Chinese language rhythm. Therefore, the Singaporean Chinese will naturally speak English faster than the French person.

No matter what your native language is, if you match the rate and rhythm of speech of the slowest speaking person, it will be easier to communicate and connect on a paralinguistic level.

Research indicates that confidence, assertiveness, and boldness are reflected in louder speech.

This doesn’t mean that you go around speaking loudly but if you need to “raise the stakes” or occur more assertive, raising your vocal volume will help you to do this.

A high-pitched voice can often time sound squeaky or childlike. Many people associate lower pitches with greater credibility, maturity and authority. More men are born with low-baritone or bass-pitched voices and they rarely use the highest level of pitch that women use.

Business women often times find themselves in a vocal dilemma trying to force their natural speaking voice too low to be more accepted or to seem more professional. It is important to note that the pitches you choose to speak on most should be in your most powerful vocal range.

Even though a lower pitched voice is often considered more credible, you should never force your voice so low that you lose vocal power or vocal focus.

Inflection/Vocal variety 
Inflection refers to variations in pitch. Imagine a storyteller reading a book to children. You would expect an almost sing-song inflection. But too much inflection in other contexts, like the business world, can undermine credibility. On the other hand, we all know what it’s like to be nearly put to sleep by a monotone speaker who will definitely be perceived as less charismatic or even flat out boring.

One of the easiest ways to ensure your voice is never boring or monotonous is to warm up daily with a few singing exercises or a song in the shower.

Quality usually refers to the vocal characteristics that allow you to differentiate one voice from another. Is a person’s voice small, feminine, or shaky; thin, throaty, or aloof; tense, flat, grating, nasal, harsh, or shrill? All of these represent different vocal combinations of rate, pitch, and volume.

Record yourself to get a more realistic idea of what you sound like and ask several people you trust for their opinion and feedback on your vocal quality.

Finally, how emphatic are the statements? For example if someone says, “I want you to do it now!” The intense delivery can be a direct indicator of the speaker’s passion and commitment or lack of it. The tone also reveals emotions behind the words being spoken.

An assertive listener will be able to connect face to face and create instant rapport with someone on the telephone by being aware of the subtle nuances of paralinguistic communication.

When you match & mirror vocal characteristics without mockery but with the intention to authentically connect with the people you are speaking with, you will be amazed at how quickly and easily you can establish vocal rapport that leads to greater understanding and more efficient paralinguistic communication.

Being aware of your own paralinguistic vocal strengths and weaknesses will allow you to subtly influence your speaking and listening so that you will be a more powerful communicator.