The language everybody speaks.
Intonation and Voice
A message can be added to the words we are using in a spoken sentence by using an intonation in our voice. This will let the receiver know what way the message needs to be interpreted.
For instance a question such as "why have you not told me this before now?" can be communicated in a variety of ways by using different intonations.
In this way we can add expressions such as anger, disappointment or happiness to the actual words. When talking on the phone we can not make use of body signals like gestures, facial expression and touch. The receiver can not see our body language and therefore we often compensate for that by putting more emphasis on the way we use the intonations in our voice.
Ahs, hums, hesitations and pauses
Our conversations are full of ahs, hums, hesitations and pauses. These guide our conversations and provide spaces for us to think and feel. They occur more when the subject is difficult or emotional or when we feel unsure of ourselves. If a public speaker addresses the audience for the first time, it will be noticeable that his/her speech gets more and more fluent as she/he speaks longer. This occurs only if there are no negative body language signals from the audience. This gives the speaker confidence, and by becoming more confident his/her speech will become more fluent. A good speaker will pay attention to the body language signals from the audience and if possible adjust the speech accordingly -or adjust the way he/she delivers it.
Hearing emotions in a voice
It is possible to hear emotions in a voice. Our voice will tremble if we are feeling emotional and still need to/ want to continue talking. The tremble can indicate various emotions and can be interpreted differently by men and women, as well as by each individual. It is important to keep in mind that the situation, as well as gender and culture, can play a role in determining those differences. Some people use noisy actions such as clearing a throat or coughing when they find themselves in a tense situation. Spontaneous coughing and throat clearing occurs a lot more at official occasions when there is a request for silence! The whole range of emotions and ways to express them is not only closely related to the intonations in our voice and body language but also to our breathing. For example, think of when we sigh, laugh or cry.
Silences are another important aspect in communication. A whole web page could be written about the role of silences in our communication. When we are silent we are also communicating! What we communicate depends on what kind of silence it is. Mostly the subject of the conversation plays a major role in this. Again, the time in between words provide feeling and thinking space for people. Generally, the more emotionally loaded the subject is, the more silences we need. To not talk, to be silent in company when there is a lot of talking is an art in itself. Many people tend to think that when there is a silence there is just nothing more to say. Not true! It often means that people are trying to figure out something intuitively about themselves or the other(s). Quite often too they are noticing something about the body language of the other(s) and are paying attention to that.
Silence to be intimate with others
Sometimes people need silence to work out how intimate they want to be with others. Silences in group conversations are difficult to handle for a lot of people. They make them nervous, or they feel that they have to say something and can get embarrassed if they have nothing to add at that moment. It is at moments like these that we all say strange, stupid or boring things and later wonder why we did that - or worse, dislike ourselves for saying such stupid things! The weather, or other standard socially acceptable superficial conversation topics, is often used to fill up those gaps. It's always good to have a few standard comments up your sleeve in case of acute embarrassment. People who do not like to talk about a particular topic for whatever reason will use a silence or break in the conversation to create a distraction by changing topics. In the therapeutic world, silences are often used to give someone the opportunity to become more aware of themselves or what they have just said. If it is in a group, then silence can indicate a level of comfort and intimacy as well as distrust. Again, it depends on many other factors how the silence is interpreted. Silences can make some people feel threatened. Of course, when there is a silence it can be threatening, as everyone becomes more aware of his or her own body and their body language - especially if they have read this web site about it!
text: Frank van Marwijk.
translation: Josje v.d. Steen and Suzanne van Leendert
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