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Do you use your tone of voice and body language to your advantage?

This article is based on the free eBook This article is based on the free eBook “Effective Communication Skills”

What does it take to communicate with another person? How are we communicating even when we aren’t using words? When you begin studying communication, you’ll find that we communicate with much more than our words. In face-to-face communication, our words are only part of the message. The balance of the message, and in fact, the largest part of the message that we are sending to others is made up of non-verbal information. It is composed of our body language and our tone of voice. Let’s take a closer look at these two communication elements.

 

Face to face communication

Albert Mehrabian’s work on verbal and non-verbal communication in the 1960s and early 1970s is still considered a valid model today. He posed that the non-verbal aspects of communication such as tone of voice and non-verbal gestures communicate a great deal more than the words that are spoken. He also found that people are more likely to believe your non-verbal communication than your verbal communication if the two are contradictory. In other words, you are most believable and most effectively communicating when all three elements of face-to-face communication are aligned with each other. Over half of the information we send to others is through non-verbal methods.

 

Tone of voice

According to Mehrabian, the tone of voice we use is responsible for about 35-40 percent of the message we are sending. Tone involves the volume you use, the level and type of emotion that you communicate and the emphasis that you place on the words that you choose. To see how this works, try saying the sentences below with the emphasis each time on the word in bold.

 

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I didn’t say he borrowed my book.

I didn’t say he borrowed my book.

I didn’t say he borrowed my book.

I didn’t say he borrowed my book.

I didn’t say he borrowed my book.

I didn’t say he borrowed my book.

I didn’t say he borrowed my book.

The same sentence can have multiple meaning depending on which word is emphasized. The emphasis on a particular word implies additional information than what the words say.

Notice that the meaning of the sentence changes each time, even though the words are the same. The emphasis you place on the word draws the listener’s attention, indicating that the word is important somehow. In this case, the emphasis indicates that the word is an error. So in the first example, I didn’t say he borrowed my book, the phrase includes the message that someone else said it. The implied information continues to change in each sentence, despite the words remaining the same each time.

 

Body language

Over half of the message that we are sending to others is non-verbal, according to Mehrabian. This means that we receive more than half of what a person is communicating through the subconscious messages they are sending with body language.

 

Examples of body language include:

  • Facial expressions
  • The way they are standing or sitting
  • Gestures with their arms or hands
  • Eye contact (or lack thereof)
  • Breathing rate
  • Swallowing or coughing
  • Blushing
  • Fidgeting

 

Basically, body language includes anything they are doing with their body besides speaking. We recognize this communication instinctively, without having to be told what it means. Read the following examples and you’ll have a good idea of what the person’s body language is telling you. We instinctively recognize what body language is telling us.

  • Mike is sitting with his arms crossed over his chest. His head is tilted down and away from you. His finger is tapping his arm in a fast, erratic manner.
  • Jane is sitting back in her chair with her arms crossed behind her head. She is smiling at you and nodding her head from time to time as you speak.
  • Dave is standing close to you at an angle. He is speaking just above a whisper and in a strained voice. He makes quick, sharp movements with his hands.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that matters the most in relaying your message. We can picture these people and their behaviors from the short description here and without hearing a word from them, we have a pretty good idea of how they are feeling about the situation or about what we are saying to them.

 

Use body language to your advantage

There is another reason to understand body language besides being able to read what another is saying to you subconsciously. Body language is a useful tool that you can learn to use. You can mimic another’s body language when you want to express support for them. You can use a person’s body language to realize that your message is incomplete – there is more to say or there are questions to be answered.

When you are in a situation where you want to convey your support of another person, you can intentionally mimic their body language. If you are standing in the hallway and they lean to one side, mirror their action. If they sit back and relax, do the same. You are sending subconscious signals that you are on their side, even if the topic that you are discussing is one where there may be disagreement. It reaffirms that you are part of the same team, no matter what else might be going on.

You can also use this tool to gauge whether or not others are buying in on what you are saying. Are they using words that express agreement, but sitting all wound up with crossed arms and legs? Unless they just happen to be cold, chances are that there is some matter still unresolved in their mind. You can use this signal as information to you that you still need to do some explaining or ask some additional questions.

 

If you are looking for more useful facts about communication, the free eBook “Effective Communication Skills” written by MTD Training is the right choice for you.

 

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