We often focus on what we should say in challenging situations in order to communicate successfully. However, our voice can support or conflict with our intended message. In fact, when listeners observe incongruent voice and words, they tend to rely on the nonverbal, vocal messages. How can we use our voice successfully when speaking? What can we do when communicating with employees, patients, clients, members of our church or synagogue, friends, spouses, etc.? How can we convey compassion or any other desired emotions?
When we lower our pitch and speak with a slow rate, the listener often responds with more trust. This is a helpful strategy for physicians or managers delivering bad news, according to a study conducted at the University of Houston. This pattern helps the speaker come across as supportive. On the other hand, a fast-paced speech pattern may indeed alienate the person receiving the bad news. (1)
A harsh, dominant voice might convey power, but it may generate resentment from the employees. Alternatively, a warm, supportive voice will result in greater satisfaction, cooperation, and commitment amongst the team members. (2)
Let’s look at different vocal patterns and what they may convey…..
We communicate emotion by varying vocal features and our brains then interpret these vocal changes. A melodic voice with vocal variety may communicate positive emotions or joy. Monotone often reflects sadness or boredom. One may raise pitch and loudness and vary the rate and intonation for fear, anger, or excitement. Of course, we have to also account for cultural differences since they may influence the interpretation or misinterpretation of the message (3).
So, remember, when speaking, particularly in difficult situations, tone of voice and manner of delivery (rate, loudness, variety) will influence what the listener hears. It’s not just what you say……it’s how you say it!
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1 “Voice analysis during bad news discussion in oncology: Reduced pitch, decreased speaking rate, and nonverbal communication of empathy.” McHenry M, Parker P.A., Baile, W.F., Lenzi R. Supportive Care in Cancer. 2011 May 15.
2 “Leadership=communication? The relation of leaders’ communication styles with leadership styles, knowledge sharing and leadership outcomes.” DeVries R.E., Bakker-Pieper A, Oostenveld W. Journal of Business Psychology. 2010 Sep; 25(3):367-80.
3 “’It’s not what you say, but how you say it’: A reciprocal temporo-frotal network for affective prosody.” Leitman D.I, Wolf D.H., Ragland J.D., Laukka P, Loughead J, Valdez J.N., Javitt D.C., Turetsky B.I., Gur R.C. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2010Feb 26; 4:19.