Remember Mom Saying, “Don’t speak to me in that tone of voice.”
Image by natureaddict from Pixabay
We’re surrounded by distractions, especially our phones. Are you paying attention to the conversations you are having or are you distracted by your phone and social media? What are your vocal elements telling others?
In communications, personal or otherwise, consider your voice. Your vocal elements can help you be engaging and interesting or they can put people to sleep. They also help ensure that your ideas are communicated clearly.
In the scientific paper “Body Language Classification and Communicative Context” by Jianxue Yin, the elements of communication are grouped for better understanding of how the elements work together and separately. The groups consist of Verbal Group – vocal elements,` Posture Group – nonverbal and body language, and the Social Group. This post will address the Verbal Group, which deals with voice elements and emotions involved in sending and receiving verbal messages.
Robin, a junior in college, working on a degree in Social Psychology, was given the assignment of observing individuals communicating in a busy, distracting environment. She was to report how individuals interacted with each other, the vocal elements they used, and their body language.
Every morning Robin stopped at the ABC Coffee Shop to get her Chocolate Hazelnut Expresso on her way to school. Being close to the university, the coffee shop was always very busy. You could find groups of students and faculty discussing the latest hot topics. The shop was large enough for 10-15 tables but small enough so you could hear snippets of just about every conversation.
Robin sat at her usual table, in the back corner where she could watch the others. She loved to watch people, perhaps that’s why she chose Social Psychology. She was curious about what made people tick.
The teacher had told them about the assignment, but would officially give it to them during the next class. She was sure the coffee shop would be the ideal setting.
As we all know, verbal communications involve a person sending messages to another person or a group using speech.
The communication is successful when the message sent is received by the listener and both parties understand the message.
It’s not always easy to get the other person’s attention to receive the message, especially if they are on their phone or distracted by some other electronic device.
Emotions affect every communication element group. They motivate you to take action and assist you in making quick decisions by giving you feedback about the other person’s nonverbal communication, the situation at hand, and the meaning of their words.
Emotions are contagious. They can interfere with your ability to communicate nonverbal messages. If you enter into a conversation with someone or a group and you are stressed, upset, or angry, it’s very likely that you will transfer your emotions to the other person resulting in a bad situation.
For example, stress may cause you to defensively misread the messages sent by the other person resulting in you sending inappropriate messages.
“93/7 Rule: 93% of communication occurs through nonverbal behavior & tone;
only 7% of communication takes place through the use of words.”
Since 93% of our communication is nonverbal behavior, it behooves us to become more aware of our body language and other nonverbal cues that we give to others, which we will cover in the next few posts.
In a conversation, your voice is the channel through which your listener receives the message. People do not listen to only your words, but the way you say them – vocal elements.
Vocal elements such as tone, pitch, rate of speech, volume, pauses, plus your words are all part of your communication. How you use the vocal elements can make your words appealing, powerful, and create interest. They can also make your listener angry or check out.
Have you ever listened to someone who speaks in a monotone? Was it hard to focus?
Rate of Speech
- Speaking at the same rate of speed is very similar to speaking in a monotone. Boring!
- Varying the rate of your speech creates interest.
- It also helps listeners interpret the meaning of your words.
- Quick or jerky movement or voice show stress or fear inside.
- If you want to excite your listeners, speak quickly with an enthusiastic tone.
- Slow the rate of your speak to allow your listeners to think about your words.
- This also creates anticipation for your next idea – cliff hanger.
Pitch or Tone
Raising the Pitch or Tone
- Raising the pitch in your voice signals uncertainty or suggest a question.
- The tone of voice reflects psychological arousal, emotion, and mood. It may also carry social information, as in a sarcastic, superior, or submissive manner of speaking.
- Universally, adults use higher pitched voices to speak to infants and young children.
- Men and women both use higher pitched voices in greetings and in courtship, to show harmlessness and to invite physical closeness.
- “‘It [e.g., stumbling over words, higher vocal pitch, repeated swallowing] is no guarantee that a lie is being told, but it signifies a hot moment, when something is going on you should follow up with interrogation,’ Dr. [Paul] Ekman said” (Goleman, New York Times, C9, Sept. 17, 1991). A higher pitch can also indicate defensiveness.
Lowering the Pitch or Tone
- Lowering the voice pitch projects a more authoritative and influential character.
- A lower pitch can indicate shame, especially if the person is caught in a lie.
- The softer pitch is innately “friendly,” and suggests a nonaggressive, nonhostile pose.
- According to (Washington Post [Schwartz 1996:A4]) “There’s a hidden battle for dominance waged in almost every conversation–and the way we modulate the lower frequencies of our voices shows who’s on top”
- Submission: the act of acknowledging, complying with, or surrendering to the power or will of another.
- If your voice is too low, your listener may not be able to hear and understand you.
- A low volume communicates timidity and submissiveness.
- If your voice is too loud, it may be annoying to some listeners and disturb others.
Vary Voice Volume
- Vary your voice volume to dramatize an idea or thought.
- Lowering your volume can draw your listener to concentrate more closely on what you are saying.
- Raise the volume when you want to emphasize a particular word or idea.
- Punctuate with pauses.
- Occasionally pause to break up the flow of information and words especially after an important point or concluding an idea.
- This allows listeners to process and understand what was said.
- Use pauses to create anticipation.
- People who are lying often pause to give themselves time to think.
- Improve your listeners’ understanding.
- Clearly enunciate each sentence, phrase, and word.
- Practice improving pronunciation.
- Speaking clearly conveys competence, confidence, and intelligence.
Vocal Element Combination
Lowering your pitch while varying the rate of speech with occasional pauses has proven to be the most effective.
Robin Gets Her Assignment
Robin listened as her professor finished giving the assignment.
He began talking about a similar assignment he had been given in college. The more he talked the faster he talked and the pitch in his voice raised.
The excitement began to build in Robin. She couldn’t wait to get started. Her mind began to race through different possibilities of how to make this happen. She could feel the adrenaline beginning to course through her body.
She looked at her watch, “Fifteen minutes left. I wish he’d end the class. I want to get started.”
He caught her attention when the volume in his voice dropped. The pitch in his voice lowered and his speech slowed to almost a crawl. He had her attention. What changed? What was he going to say next?
He paused. All the heads in the classroom raised to see why.
“I know this is short notice, but I need your project proposals by Monday morning. That gives you three days to work on it. If I don’t have it by Monday you will be docked one grade point,” he said just a little above a whisper, but loud enough for everybody to hear.
ABC Coffee Shop
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels
At the ABC Coffee Shop Robin observed two women.
Robin chose a table in the corner so she could see every table. With laptop open and recorder on, she began to take notes. If she listened closely she could hear just about every word said at the tables closest to her. She was hoping to be able to record some of the conversations. The tables further away gave her an ideal view for watching their body language.
She sat for a moment observing the coffee shop. All of the tables were full. Music was playing over the loudspeaker. Phones rang. People were talking and laughing. Three were talking on their phones. A couple of people were even talking on their phones and to the other person at their table. Someone in the back dropped some dishes. A person entered the front door causing the bell hanging on the door to ring. A coffee bean grinders whirled. The expresso machine screamed as it was frothing the milk for a Latte’.
She tuned in on two women talking at an adjacent table. They may have been professors, administration or just a couple of women getting together for morning coffee. Robin didn’t know. One of the women, we’ll call Connie, seemed to be more talkative than the other one who we’ll call Debbie.
Connie spoke first as the women were seated with their coffee in hand, “I remember the last time we were together. Do you remember the Christmas Party?” Connie asked.
“Absolutely,” Debbie replied. “That was a lot of fun. It was great seeing everybody’s families, especially the kids.”
“Are your grandkids close?” Connie asked.
“My daughter lives down close to Atlanta. She has two grandkids. I don’t get to see them very often, I wish…” Debbie was saying when she was interrupted by Connie.
“I know exactly what you mean…” Connie started to say when Debbie took the conversation back.
“I’m really sorry, but we don’t have a lot of time, I have to prepare for my next class, but I did ask you for coffee to discuss our next get-together. We had so much fun last time.”
Nice take-back, Robin observed. She observed two guys at another table. They looked like college kids. She called the one with dark hair Fred and the redhead, Willie.
She observed that Willie was talking almost non-stop. Fred was engaged in attentive listening, using verbal signals, like, “yeah”, “aha”, “really” with a few nods and smiles thrown in also. Then his phone rang. He said, “Excuse me,” as he looked down at his phone and pushed a button for it to go to voice mail.
“Sorry about that. Please continue,” Fred said with a hand gesture for Willie to continue.
After a couple of minutes, Fred held up his hand with his index finger extended. Willie stopped talking.
“Can you repeat what you just said? I’m not sure I understand correctly,” Fred said.
Willie smiled and went back over what he had just said in a little different way.”
“That was a really polite conversation for a couple of college guys,” Robin snickered to herself as she looked around the room.
Robin recorded all the noise in the coffee shop wondering how anyone could carry on a meaningful conversation with the noise and distractions.
Conclusion – Communication Tips
Starting A Conversation
When you start a conversation with someone you haven’t seen for a while, reference the context of your last meeting.
Watch the speed at which you speak. Don’t speak too fast or too slow. Watch the response on your listener’s face. Varying the speed creates interest and helps the listener interpret the meaning of your words.
Pitch or Tone
The tone of voice reflects psychological arousal, emotion, and mood. It may also carry social information, as in a sarcastic, superior, or submissive manner of speaking. Lowering the pitch or tone projects more authority or influence.
Varying the volume in your voice adds drama. When a person lowers their volume it draws the listener in, whereas, raising the volume emphasizes a word or idea.
Lowering your pitch while varying the rate of speech with occasional pauses has proven to be the most effective.
Never interrupt someone while they are talking. Not only is this rude, but it can be annoying, too. Unless you are interrupting someone to clarify something, please refrain from doing so while they are talking.
If you are interrupted, you have a couple of good options. Ignore their interruption and keep talking, politely take the conversation back (which I will cover in another post), or allow them to hijack the conversation.
Make it a point to ask a couple of follow-up questions. Doing this shows that you were attentively listening to what they were saying and allows them to clarify their meaning.
One of the most important parts of communication is listening. Listening is not just waiting until you have a turn to speak, using the time to compose what you are going to say next. Listening is being respectful while giving the other person a chance to share their thoughts and idea.
Give them non-intrusive verbal and nonverbal signals to continue talking. Give yourself time to receive and digest what the other person is saying so you will be able to respond more appropriately when it is your turn to speak.
Active and attentive listening builds emotional intimacy and shows empathy and respect.
Get the other person to share stories.
In a personal conversation stay away from facts. If you ask where they work then immediately follow with, “How do you like working there?”
Encourage them to tell their story.
If you get short answers to your “open-ended” questions find a different topic.
Are you aware of how you use vocal elements in your conversations? If not, perhaps it’s time to listen to yourself and watch other people’s faces to see if they are engaged in what you are saying or not?