Paralanguage: What Does Your Voice Say About You?
Do you like the sound of your own voice? Most people don’t. When they hear their voice registered, the first thought that pops into their mind is, “Do I really sound like THAT when I talk?”
We are not used to hearing our voice the way the rest of the world does, but this does not mean that we should diminish its importance.
Just like your fingerprints or your DNA, your voice is unique and it says a lot about you and your personality.
It is enough for people to hear your voice on the phone to make quite a few very important (and often very accurate) assumptions about you – including your age, education, intelligence, maturity, health, background, body build, attitude and even your emotional state.
A few years ago an experiment made in this area showed that people literally “hear” personality in the voices of others and it biases their opinions about everything from the person’s credibility, to the level of confidence, to sexual appeal.
In fact, the science behind our tone of voice is so vast that there is a whole area of non-verbal communication, called Paralanguage.
Paralanguage studies speech qualities such as its pitch (highness or lowness of voice), pace (speed), volume (loudness) and, in some cases, enunciation.
How can knowledge about Paralanguage help you in your day-to-day communication?
Potentially, your voice has the power to engage, charm, encourage, motivate, persuade, or gain people’s attention and trust. Just as, if used incorrectly, it can alter the meaning of your message and give people the wrong impression about your true personality, making you sound unprofessional, indecisive or, vice versa, pushy and demanding.
Take a moment to learn what your voice says about you and what you can do to make the best impression in every conversation.
3 Elements of Paralanguage
1. Speech Pace.
Pace of speech is the first and probably the most important part of paralanguage, which basically describes the speed at which we say our thoughts out loud.
Our speech pace is largely influenced by our emotional state, such as nervousness or excitement.
I have noticed that I start speaking faster whenever the conversation revolves around topics that I am passionate about. For some unexplainable reason, I feel the urge to share my fascination and squeeze as much information as possible into my 2-minute conversation window. Now, as soon as I realize that I start to chatter, I deliberately try to slow down and let another person talk.
What Does Fast-Paced Voice Say aboutYou:
Talking at a pace that is too high makes it challenging for people to mentally keep up with the message and follow the trace of thought. It also gives the impression that the speaker is agitated, loves to chat, lacks seriousness and can be easily manipulated.
What Can You Do:
If sometimes people ask you to talk slower or repeat a phrase again, you can probably benefit greatly from bringing your speech pace down. This does not mean that you should take forever to get to your message across or pause after every word. The rule of thumb is to speak at a pace that is slightly slower than what you are comfortable with.
Another great way to make your speech more effective and expressive, is to take control of your breathing and focus on pronouncing the words and punctuation marks clearly (e.g. pausing for commas, hyphens, and question marks).
What Does Slow-Paced Voice Say about You:
Slow speakers usually give people the impression of being calm, composed and confident. They appear relaxed and in control and often have a soothing effect on people they talk to. However, speaking at a very slow pace makes the conversation seem monotonous and leaves the listeners too much time to process the message (which is why their thoughts soon start to wander off to other topics).
What Can You Do:
If you do not want to relax your listeners to the point of making them fall asleep, avoid speaking in monotone. Make a conscious effort to vary both, your tone of voice and your speech pace.
Pitch is the placement of the voice on the musical scale ranging from high to low. Usually men speak in lower pitch (about 120 Hz) than women (220 Hz).
What Does Speaking in a Low Pitch Say about You:
Studies that have been made in the area of paralanguage indicate that low-pitch speaking voices, both for men and women are preferred by the listeners. Whether deserved or not, low-pitch talkers are associated with authority, credibility, strength and self-confidence.
Many actors, singers and public speakers consciously bring their voice pitch down to sound more rich, expressive, appealing and persuasive.
What Does Speaking in a High Pitch Say about You:
High-pitched, “thin”, squeaky or nasal sounding voices are less pleasant to the ears of the listeners. They give the illusion of a lack of confidence and make the person sound insecure, weak, nervous and less truthful.
What Can You Do:
Contrary to popular belief, high-pitch speakers can learn to control their speaking pattern and bring their voice down a notch. The best and safest way to do it is to work together with a vocal coach and learn to breathe from the diaphragm as you talk.
Volume refers to the power of loudness of your voice. Clearly, the volume of the voice should not be too high so that it sounds as if you are shouting or too low, where your listeners have difficulty hearing you.
What Does the Volume of Your Voice Say about You:
If you are a soft-spoken person, you can be perceived as shy or insecure. While, if people have to hold their phone 5 inches away from their ear while talking to you, you might give the impression of someone, who loses their temper easily.
What Can You Do:
Fortunately, changing your voice volume is one of the simplest skills of paralanguage that you can master. It does not take much effort to raise our voice or lower it down a little depending on the situation we find ourselves in.
What kind of voices do you like listening to? What do you think you can change in your speaking pattern to improve your conversation skills and have people hang on your every word?