Paralinguistics – You Cannot Not Communicate


When speaking we do are also doing so much more. Body language, facial expression and non-verbal elements of the voice (pitch, pace, tone, accent, &c) have far greater effect than most realise. All non-verbal communication (everything that is not the words used) is known as paralanguage


Studies from the 1960s, often repeated and confirmed show the breakdown of communication to be 55 – 38 – 7

55% body language

38% facial and vocal (but non-verbal) communication

7% language


So when you are communicating the effect that you on your listeners is only 7% determined by what you say. The other 93% of the effect that you have is determined by everything else.



Paralanguage is divided into two areas

·         Communicative paralanguage is intended to enhance communication. These are the deliberate gestures, stress and emphasis in speech, positive facial expressions should all be chosen to match the point being made, to communicate that point more effectively

·         Informative paralanguage is unconscious and reveals what the speaker may really be thinking. These include nervous tics, natural body position and expression, and microexpressions (or ‘tells’) are all examples of informative paralanguage




Because we do not always say what we mean there are often conflicts between our paralanguage and our actual spoken language e.g. the smile on the face is contradicted by the aggression in the tone of voice or expressing enthusiasm for something whilst slouched, distracted by something else, or with a defensive body posture.


When such conflicts occur, two general rules apply:

·         People always believe the bigger number – so they are more likely to believe your paralanguage than your words because the paralanguage counts for 93% rather than the words which account for a mere 7% of your impact

·         People are biased toward the negative – so if your tone is positive but your stance is aggressive people are more likely to be influenced by the stance and see you as aggressive


So, you need to always be aware not just of what you are saying but how you are saying it.