Knowing About Paralinguistic Communication

Paralinguistic CommunicationParalinguistic communication is the study of voice and how words are said.

When we open our mouths we disclose all kinds of things about ourselves that have nothing at all to do with the words we are uttering and controlling the nonverbal elements of our message can entirely change its meaning.

Paralinguistic cues refer to everything having to do with speech for the words we actually utter.

In communicating our intent, these may be a bit subtler other forms of nonverbal behaviors.

Certainly a booming, yelling voice is not subtle. However, a firm that conveys conviction is more nuanced than a pointing finger, big gestures, or the assault of one’s personal space.

Vocal cues contain:

  • Quality: Quality normally refers to those vocal characteristics that let you to differentiate one voice from another. Is the voice small, feminine, or tremulous; thin, throaty, or fronted (aloof); tense, flat, grating, nasal, harsh, or shrill? All of these represent various combinations of rate, pitch, and volume.
  • Intensity: How emphatic are the statements? For instance, “I really want you to do it now!” The intensity can be a thorough indicator of the speaker’s passion and commitment or lack of it!
  • Silence: Silence can speak Volumes. It can offer thinking time, hurt another person, isolate oneself, avert communication, convey feelings, create personal distance, signal respect and admiration, provide greater opportunity for increasing awareness of the self and others, accent or highlight certain messages, say nothing, allow the speaker to explore his or her own thoughts and feelings, or create interpersonal distance. The Amish call this “shunning.” Pausing is a form of silence that can be provoked by anxiety. It also impacts the rhythm and rhythm or flow of the speech.
  • Rate: How many words per minute? In the United States, people from the northeast speak with more speediness than do Southerners and usually men speak faster than women. Rapid rates of speech (and quickly coming up with a retort) have been associated with composure and self-assurance.
  • Volume: How loud or soft is the voice? Researchers have found that confidence, assertiveness, and boldness are reflected in louder speech.
  • Pitch: Is the voice high or low in pitch? A high-pitched voice can sound noisy and childlike. We associate lower pitches with greater credibility. More men are born with low-baritone or bass-pitched voices. They rarely use the highest level of pitch that women use.
  • Inflection: Inflection refers to variations in pitch. How song-like does one sound? Imagine a storyteller reading a book to children. We would expect inflection. Too much inflection, however, in other contexts such as the business world can undermine credibility. In contrast, we are put to sleep by speakers who employ a monotonic voice, and they are perceived as less


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