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Interpersonal Communications: It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Interpersonal Communications: It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

two women talking

 “Fluency in non-verbal communication can be as powerful a tool as masterful negotiating techniques or expert salesmanship” – Joe Navarro

Have you ever experienced a situation where your partner in conversation is noticeably overbearing? Have you had a supervisor whose way of delivering instructions comes across as overly aggressive? You may have felt intimidated, even though the actual message was benign.  Why was that? Last week I wrote about how awareness of your body language is an important part of interpersonal communications. This week I will talk about using the tone, pace and rhythm of our speech to enhance our message. Just the way in which a person uses their body when communicating can be in direct opposition to the words coming out of their mouths, so can the tone, inflection, pace and rhythm of speech contradict the spoken message.  Being aware not only of the words but how you are delivering them is critical to making sure your message is received the way you intend it to be.

Here are some aspects of “how we say things” to be aware of:

  • Tone of Voice: Voice intonation refers to the use of changing pitch in order to convey a message. The same message, for example, can be delivered using a rising intonation, a dipping intonation, or a falling intonation. Changes in tone can help inject emotions into messages — messages can be upbeat or somber, depending on the speaker’s tone. Changes in tone can also help identify the purpose of a sentence. There are intonations that better fit a question, and intonations that better fit a declarative sentence.
  • Stress and Emphasis: Changing the words or syllables on which you place emphasis can change your message’s meaning. For example, consider the differences among the statements below. The italicized word represents the emphasis. Each one has an entirely different meanging.
  • You mean he disobeyed his mother?
  • You mean he disobeyed his mother?
  • You mean he disobeyed his mother?
  • Pace and Rhythm: The speed of speech, as well as the appropriate use of pauses, can change the meaning of words spoken, and affect the clarity and effectiveness of a communication. For instance, people who speak too fast can be difficult to converse with — a listener might feel too pressured or unable to catch every word! On the other hand, a person who speaks too slowly can bore their listener.
  • Volume: How softly and how loudly you speak also matters in communication. Ideally, one should generally speak in a moderate volume while in the company of others; a too soft voice can communicate nervousness or lack of assertiveness, while a loud voice can communicate anger and aggression. A person should also be flexible, able to whisper or shout when it’s appropriate to do so.
  • Pronunciation and Enunciation. Your message’s effectiveness is also influenced by pronunciation and enunciation. Pronunciation refers to articulating a word in a way that’s generally accepted or understood, while enunciation is the act of speaking clearly and concisely. Developing one’s skills in pronunciation and enunciation ensures that one is accurately understood. Note that accents can cause variations in what is considered acceptable pronunciation.



John Whitehead, coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

*******Are you wondering if having a Leadership/Personal Development Coach is right for you? Contact John for a complimentary, exploratory coaching session at [email protected]********

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