Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Effective Use of Paralanguage in the Workplace

Paralanguage is related to the use of subtle messages that includes tone, prosody, intonation, tempo, syllable emphasis, and other hints that create additional meaning beyond the words themselves. Knowing and understanding how paralanguage influences clarity can help in creating more effective conversation in the workplace. Managers who are capable of creating higher levels of congruency between the words they use and the paralanguage associated with those words can increase their communication effectiveness and organizational influence.

Most information comes from non-verbal aspects of communication and alignment between these two concepts creates congruence. A study of university lecturers helped identify that those who used appropriate pitch, loudness, variability, pauses, and fluency increased audience satisfaction (Md Zani, et. al, 2011). The audience paid more attention and were more focused on the concepts. This helps ensure that the messages not only came across well but were also received by members of the audience.

If the use of paralanguage can benefit the quality of communication in a public forum it can also benefit management and employee relationships. As employees seek to understand expectations, directions, and practical information they will listen beyond the words into paralanguage to determine both intent and hidden meaning. This intent, whether positive or negative, will help ensure the truthfulness of the message. 

In many cases employees are not consciously aware of these messages and intuitively prescribe them to the words being spoken. The use of paralanguage is a system that develops within a cultural heritage to further expand the language capabilities between members (Wang De-hue, 2007). Because we are raised within a particular culture we may have some difficulty interpreting the meaning of messages from other cultures. The more we associate with other cultures the more able we are to understand their subtle messages.

We begin to become aware of that language at a young age in the same way that we become aware of social context. At the age of six children are still more likely to judge the actual words versus the subtle differences in paralanguage (Morton & Trehub 2001). Yet by the time they become adults they are much more astute at this overall judgment between spoken language and its subtle paralanguage. 

To create congruence of language also creates clarity in the message as well as its perceived honesty. For many managers it is about being aware of such language and its potential impact on employees that will help them create stronger relationships with employees as well as more effectiveness within their management style. It is through continuous practice that managers can improve both the giving as well as the reception of such messages. 

Organizations should consider a level of training in language usage as it pertains to the workplace. A number of studies have indicated that both written and verbal communication skills are important factors of success in the workplace. Employee resistance, misinterpretation, wasted employee effort, conflict, and general labor relations are all associated with the proper use of language. The concept becomes even more important as leaders grow in influence and power. It is difficult for them to clearly articulate their strategic visions if they are inadvertently giving off mixed signals that are interpreted differently by different sectors of society.

Md Zani, et. al. (2011). The relationship between lecturers’ paralanguage and student’s satisfaction in Universiti Teknologi Mara, Kendah, Malaysia. Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in business, 3 (6). 

Morton & Trehub, S. (2001). Children’s understanding of emotion in speech. Child Development, 72 (3).

Wang, D. & Li, H. (2007). Nonverbal language in cross-cultural communication. US-China Foreign Language, 5 (10).

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