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It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Communication can only be said to have successfully happened when the receiver of a message interprets it in the exact way the sender intended. This sounds like a simple enough concept, but accomplishing successful communication isn’t always guaranteed. This is mainly because people encounter and perceive life’s experiences from perspectives that are unique to their individual personalities, or specific cultural backgrounds. The fact that we each have unique ways of interpreting life can often cause misunderstanding in regular conversation.

As frustrating as these disparities are, they can be remedied with a conscious decision to be mindful of two things as you communicate, namely: the message you intend to convey, and the manner in which you are conveying your message. In every conversation you have, it’s not just what you say that matters, it’s how you say it as well. Taking the initiative to examine and anticipate how your message will be received can mean the difference between actually connecting with someone, or having a complete breakdown in communication.

The following are aspects of “how we say things” that we should take note of:

1. Tone of Voice
Voice intonation refers to the fluctuation in volume and pitch of a person’s voice. One method a speaker can use to provide additional information about their intended message to a listener is by modulating their tone during speech. One example of this is the difference between how people converse with children as opposed to adults. People are likelier to use a gentle tone of voice when communicating with children because a gentle tone is typically used to demonstrate approachability. On the other hand, aggressive or loud tone of voice typically demonstrates assertiveness or even hostility. Adapting your tone of voice both to the person being spoken to, and the environment of the conversation, therefore contributes to the sustainability of a conversation by letting the listener know whether to be receptive or feel repelled.

2. Stress and Emphasis
Stress and emphasis are components of speech which comprise modification of one’s accent with the specific aim of giving special importance to a word or message as a whole. One method a speaker can use to either add or subtract prominence to their dialogue is by targeting stress or emphasis onto chosen words and phrases. A simple example of this is shown in how people react to dangerous situations. If someone were to utter the phrase “Stop what you’re doing,” they would apply more stress to their speech if someone else was attacking them with a weapon as opposed to a pillow. Applying stress and emphasis to your speech is usually a technique used to get others’ attention.

3. Pace and Rhythm
Pace and rhythm refer to the speed and frequency used to utter speech. When it comes to linguistics however, this concept also involves the use of silence and pauses to modify meaning during conversation. It’s usually the case that accelerated speech is more likely to be applied in situations where all parties in a conversation have more in common with one another. A heightened pace or rhythm to your speech should mostly be used in situations where there is minimal doubt about the probability of being misunderstood by whomever you’re addressing.

There are an infinite number of techniques one can use to modify speech during conversation. The important thing to note is that the bedrock of all this effort should be emotional intelligence. Being in tune with whether your listener is feeling happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, anger, or disgust should inform your decision to do things like changing your tone of voice, your emphasis or the pace of your speech. When you adapt to your listener’s emotional state of mind intelligently, your communication will be received as genuine and sincere.

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