A few weeks ago, I took our two cats, Gidget and Gizmo, to a new veterinarian for their shots and grooming. As I described each cat’s personality and disposition to the doctor, I heard an audible sound: “Hmmmmm…” What caught my attention was his tone. It was audible enough for me to hear (loud) and extended (long). It started higher and ended on a low note. “Hmmmmm…” It wasn’t just the sound…it was how it sounded to me. He continued making this sound several times within a matter of minutes. The sound seemed to be made at almost an unconscious rather than conscious level. Translation: I had some concerns. Did I bring my cats to the right vet? Could he help them? Was he reluctant to perform the tasks I was paying him for?
It’s not just what you say…it’s how you say it that conveys attitude and feeling. In his research and 1981 book, Silent Messages, noted communication scholar Albert Mehrabian reported that people convey feelings and attitudes in face-to-face communication through three main components: words, tone of voice and nonverbal behavior (like facial expressions). Mehrabian further described how important it is that your verbal (words) and nonverbal (tone of voice and facial expressions) language are congruent, or aligned, to accurately convey the message you intend. When there is incongruence between the verbal and nonverbal, people will turn to or trust the nonverbal behavior for meaning.
This brings me back to my experience with the vet. His tone conveyed to me messages like “I’m not sure about this.” “I’m a little concerned.” “Let me think this over before we do anything.” Although he didn’t say a word, my interpretation of his underlying message came through his tone of voice, audible exhaling and his facial expressions, like furrowed brows, pursed lips and squinted eyes.
Do a quick self-assessment of your verbal and nonverbal communication to make sure you are sending the right messages:
Are you unconsciously (or consciously) using audible sounds as you convey messages to others?
What message does your tone convey?
Are you sending mixed messages?
Is your verbal and nonverbal language congruent to ensure clear meaning?