Paraverbal Communication: How We Say What We Say

August 7, 2022
Female counsellor talking to a female patient in an office

We’re often aware of how our tone, volume, and cadence impacts behavior, but we sometimes miss out on why we use inappropriate paraverbal communication.

Looking into our own behaviors can lead to ideas about how to prevent the things we say, and how we say them, that contribute to crisis behavior.


There are plenty of reasons as to why a staff member might not get their tone right when working with a student. For example, tiredness, frustration, uncertainty, confusion, being too busy, lack of confidence; the list goes on.

And it’s easy to see how these emotions can drive our behaviors and result in an improper tone. We’re human and we make mistakes.

However, if we are more in tune with our own precipitating factors and triggers, we will be less likely to use a tone that results in a crisis. At CPI, remembering that tone and behavior influences behaviors is known as the Integrated Experience—the understanding that our own emotions and behaviors influence those around us.


Have you ever witnessed colleagues using an inappropriate volume because somebody was from another culture, or had a physical or mental disability?

In those situations, staff will sometimes raise their volume because they assume the person will understand the message better. Or lower their volume because they think the individual won’t understand the message unless they do.

The result can often be the opposite of what the colleague envisioned.

There are certainly times when we need to raise or lower our volume in order to get someone’s attention or make a point.

But for the most part, a normal volume is more conducive to the goals we seek; prevention or de-escalation of crisis behavior.


Whether it’s repeating a frequently asked list of questions or stating a policy that is often violated, we sometimes forget that our cadence picks up speed because we’re used to saying the same message repeatedly and it has become part of our procedural memory.

One way to avoid this problem is to remind yourself that although you may have said something a million times, it may well be the first time this new person is hearing it so they should receive an even rate and rhythm of speech.

It’s difficult to manage behaviors if we can’t manage our own. If we make an effort to manage our tone, volume, and cadence, our paraverbal communication can help us produce better outcomes for both students and our fellow educators.

For more information on how to gain skills and strategies to verbally de-escalate crisis situations, explore our Verbal Intervention™ Training program.


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