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Paraverbal Communication Back to Course Index

Communication experts seem to agree that only a minor portion of the messages we send comes through our words. The major part of our communication comes through our nonverbal communication, as well as our paraverbal communication.

Paraverbal communication involves three components: the tone, volume, and cadence of voice. These three components make up most of the context of any message we deliver. Take, for example, the sentence, “Is anything bothering you?” By altering the tone, volume, and rate of speech, we can give this sentence various meanings. It can be a gesture of support or it can be an insulting and sarcastic message. One only needs to alter the inflection to convey a completely different message.

Inflection becomes very critical when intervening with the potentially explosive or violent individual. Staff must be consciously aware of how they are speaking to the person (the paraverbal message), as much as they need to be conscious of what they are saying (the words they use). The best way to monitor your communication with someone is to focus on her feedback. Do not automatically assume that the individual has received the message you intended to deliver; rather, listen to her response.