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What is Paraverbal Communication? A Guide for Professionals

What is Paraverbal Communication? A Guide for Professionals

Have you ever been told you come off as intimidating or aggressive at work but can’t figure out why? Your paraverbal communication may be to blame.

Paraverbal communication is often an overlooked form of communication that speaks volumes when relaying a message. But what really is paraverbal communication, and how can it help or hinder you at work?

In this article, we will explore the topic of paraverbal communication and ways you can become more aware of it to ensure your communication is received in the way you attend. Let’s jump in.


What is Paraverbal Communication?

Paraverbal communication is the impression we omit through our spoken communication's tone, pitch, and cadence. Put simply, it isn’t the words you say, but it is the message you portray and how you say it.


What is meant by paraverbal communication Niagara Institute (1)


Here is an example of paraverbal communication to illustrate what it is. Think of a time you asked a child who was visibly upset a question. After you ask your question, they reply quickly, loudly, and with a snippy tone, “YES!” The word yes alone didn’t portray their feelings; it was how it was said that spoke volumes. This is paraverbal communication.


Is the way you communicate helping or hindering your effectiveness as a leader?  Find out in this guide.



What are the Three Forms of Paraverbal Communication?

Paraverbal communication takes on three forms: tone, pitch, and cadence. They are defined as:

  1. Tone - This is the sound and emotion in which you speak
  2. Pitch - This is the volume and highness or lowness in which you speak
  3. Cadence - This is the speed at which you speak

When combined, these three components of paraverbal communication make up how someone perceives the message we are delivering.


How Can Paraverbal Communication Be Misinterpreted?

Face-to-face communication involves three parts that make up the message someone receives. 

  1. Verbal communication - The words that are selected
  2. Paraverbal communication - How the words are said
  3. Non-verbal communication - The body language used

However, between the three forms, the emphasis or weighting the received puts into a message is unequal. The components of face-to-face communication are 55% non-verbal, 38% paraverbal, and only 7% verbal. Therefore, 93% of your message is received through your body language and how you say it. 

The tone of our voice, the pace at which we speak, and the volume of our voice can be misinterpreted based on our communication style. Naturally, everyone has a communication style they gravitate towards, which will influence their paraverbal communication, whether we know it or not. For example, in our study of workplace communication, 10.4% of respondents viewed their communication as loud, over-expressive, and intense, which would have their paraverbal communication received as intense or aggressive, even if that wasn’t their intended message.

In addition to your communication style, regional or culturally influenced speech can be misinterpreted for its tone, cadence, and volume.


What is an Example of Paraverbal Communication in the Workplace?

The way in which we communicate our words can convey entirely different messages depending on the tone, pitch, cadence, and emphasis we use on certain words.

An example is a colleague following up to see when you will be done with your portion of a team task. The way you communicate the same message can be perceived very differently.

  • “I’ll have it to YOU by next Thursday.”
  • “I’ll HAVE it to you by next Thursday.”
  • “I’ll have it to you by next THURSDAY.”
  • “I’ll have it to you by next Thursday.”

Depending on our emphasis on certain words, how rapid or high-pitched our voice is, and how abruptly we answer, the same answer can come across very differently to our colleague. How we respond has the opportunity to either strengthen or harm relationships, thus making it incredibly important to be aware of our paraverbal communication in the workplace.


How To Become More Aware of How Your Paraverbal Communication?

Becoming more aware of your paraverbal communication, which is tone, pitch, volume, and rhythm, can significantly enhance your communication skills and ensure your message is received as intended. Here are a few places to start.

Learn about your communication style

Do you know which style of communication you naturally gravitate towards? Taking a quick quiz and reading up on your preferred communication style can help you become more self-aware of your paraverbal communication tendencies. Luckily we’ve created a free communication style quiz and a corresponding article on the different communication styles in the workplace.

Do some self-reflection

Take some time to reflect and think about your speaking habits. Think about the following questions:

  • How do you use your voice? Do you speak softly or loudly, quickly or slowly?
  • How do you think your tone and pace of voice come across to others? 

It may be helpful to record yourself in different situations and listen back to them to analyze your paraverbal communication and reflect on the cues you hear. 

Ask for feedback

Get a glimpse into how others perceive your communication by asking your employees, peers, leaders, and mentors to provide feedback on your paraverbal communication. They can share their observations and opinions to help you identify communication patterns and ways to improve.

Work with a coach

A professional coach will help you uncover how others perceive your communication in the workplace and help you overcome any paraverbal cues that may be holding you back. They can fast-track your progress, provide you with expert guidance, and offer a supportive environment for growth. They can help you refine your paraverbal communication skills and ultimately improve the overall effectiveness of your communication. 

Attend a leadership communication program

Attending a program like Niagara Institute’s best-selling communication program, Speaking as a Leader, can help you develop the communication skills you need to inspire every time you speak and ensure your paraverbal cues come across as you want them perceived. Through the combination of live sessions, group work with peers, and one-on-one coaching, you’ll build your confidence as you talk through real challenges and share best practices with other ambitious professionals like yourself.


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