It’s world voice day. A day where your friendly neighbourhood otolaryngologist wants to raise awareness about the importance of voice and getting help if you develop voice issues. There is no question that your voice is important to what and how you communicate during a negotiation, but have you thought about the importance of vocalics to your negotiation or mediation? Have you considered how you may be missing an opportunity to connect and how the virtual setting increases that risk? Do you want to avoid it?
What are Vocalics
Vocalics are the non speech sounds we make as well as the way we say words. These paralinguistic cues communicate emotion and help the receiver understand the context of the message. Speech is processed in the left hemisphere of the brain, a location usually associated with analytical thinking. Vocalics trigger the right hemisphere of the brain and help the receiver understand the emotion in the speech [Reference]. How you say the words and the other sounds you make helps the receiver understand your emotional state. The words “Go to bed” can, using vocalics, be a question “go to bed?”, an instruction “go to bed.” or an order “GO TO BED!.”
If you are like me, you just proved my point by reading go to bed in three different ways in the line above.
How to deal with a loss of Vocalics?
With the rapid expansion of virtual negotiation and the present state of public health, most of our communications take place virtually. While many of the vocalics we rely on will survive this change in medium, there is a whole class of vocalics that get shut out from the conversation while some become impaired. Vocalics sent by the receiver also send signals to the speaker’s right hemisphere. Saying “uh-hun” as the speaker is speaking encourages them to continue. Receivers, by decreasing the frequency of affirmative paralinguistic cues or by switching to neutral or negative cues can signal that they are ready for the speaker to stop so the receiver can become the speaker.[Reference]
I have been on a number of Zoom meetings with a colleague, and they routinely talk well past the point of diminishing returns. Sometime the other people on the meeting become frustrated with their serial filibusters. On my second or third meeting with them, I realized they were doing two things that were hurting their ability to perceive when it was time to stop talking. They were speaking to the group from notes and they were not including pauses in their speech. Because they were speaking from notes they were not able to take in their audience’s visual cues that they had made their point. Since the audience members were on mute, the various paralingustic cues that they were sending were missed. If the speaker had deliberately included pauses as a paralinguistic invitation to others to speak, the audience would have unmuted and let them know they made their point. Instead, the speaker continued, their valid point was not what people took away from the meeting. As speakers we need to understand that communication over media requires vigilance because the unconscious conversational skills we have developed over a lifetime are impaired.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to communicating over video chat? If you need help with a virtual negotiation feel free to contact us for help