Paralinguistic cues can give clues to our stress level, age, height, weight, socio-economic status, anxiety, gender, personality characteristics, and culture. In fact, our voices are so unique voiceprints can be used to identify individuals today in the same way that DNA has been used for forensic purposes. Take, for instance, recent events in the Persian Gulf. The opening salvos of the 2003 War in Iraq were aimed at a bunker complex in which it was believed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was meeting with his sons. When Hussein showed up on television shortly thereafter, there was some belief that a body double was being used to fool the Iraqi population (and the Allied forces) into believing that he was still alive. To verify Hussein’s status, U.S. intelligence began analyzing voiceprints of his speech, comparing them to earlier television addresses. Other nonverbals couldn’t be trusted. One can manipulate the facial hair, expression, or even appearance, but controlling vocal cues is much more difficult!
We make myriad judgments about people based on their vocal cues alone. Studies have found high correlation among listeners regarding the personality traits of speakers.
It’s amazing how much information the voice can carry. It has been shown that from voice alone, listeners can accurately distinguish between female and male speakers. In one study, for instance, listeners who heard twenty speakers pronounce six recorded vowels were able to correctly identify the sex of the speaker 96 percent of the time.
GIRL TALK: THE FEMALE PERSPECTIVE
Women communicate a level of authenticity through the expressive variation of their vocal cues. They can demonstrate real sincerity, show their true feelings, and exhibit empathy in what they say. The variation inherent in the female voice conveys charisma. This is a great asset for public speaking. Women also talk to bond and connect, to fill up the empty space in order to make others feel more comfortable. Indeed, filling the silence can increase the comfort level for everyone, including the women themselves! If we don’t have a good comfort level, we don’t have good communication-our interactions become strained and forced. Women engage in “relationship talk” (classically called “chit-chat”) to help them warm up and ease the conversation into an easy, spontaneous flow.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always go over well with the men folk. In my own family, my 16-year-old son, Armand, and even Geoff, my significant other, wave me on to speak faster. My son complains that my voicemail messages go on and on. Geoff will cue me to, “Cut to the chase!” Or ask “What’s the bottom line?” Incidentally, both of those expressions are born of male culture, and I believe are a result of men’s need to be goal- rather than process-oriented (“Just the facts, ma’am.”). To a woman, the conveying of the “story” is as important as the story itself, but most men don’t care about the details! They want to get to the bottom of things.
Sad to say, some women can’t tolerate pauses in conversations and will talk to fill up the empty silence. This is often perceived as “gibberish.” Unfortunately, in the process they undermine their credibility. In fact, several other paralinguistic features of women’s nonverbal communication work against them.