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Vocal patterns can, um, undermine your message?

March 15, 2013

I gave a speech on Thursday that examined what happens when nonverbal communication sends a different message from what the words say. This nonverbal communication can encompass a lot of things but I focused on several vocal patterns.

One vocal pattern is when a person’s voice goes up at the end of a sentence, making the sentence sound like a question, not a statement.  It would be as though I said “It’s a beautiful day out.” but went up at the end of that sentence. Going up makes it sound as though I’m asking, not telling/making a statement. Going up when a person means to sound firm to make a statement gives an impression of being insecure, indecisive, possibly unsure.

Another vocal pattern I discussed was the use of space fillers such as “um”, “uh,” “okay”, “you know”, “like” and so on. Not only are they irritating but they distract from the meaning of what is being said. A client went on an interview and was told he used “uh” so many times, it became annoying. In fact, it was so annoying the interviewer started counting the “uhs”. Unfortunately when the interviewer began counting, the “uhs” were all the interviewer heard.

No matter how good an idea is, vocal patterns such as going up at the ends of sentences meant to be statements and the use of space fillers undermine the idea. They can also change the meaning so that what is heard is not what is meant.

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