We Say What We Say - Paraverbals

January 5, 2022
Female counsellor talking to a female patient in an office

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

However, looking into our own behaviours can lead to ideas about how to prevent the things we say, and how we say them, that contribute to crisis behaviour.


There are plenty of reasons as to why a staff member might not strike the right tone when dealing with a service user, patient or learner, 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 behaviours 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 situation.


Have you ever witnessed staff using an inappropriate volume because somebody was from another culture, or had a physical disability or a condition like dementia?

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 staff member envisioned.

To be sure, there are 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 behaviour.


In a social care setting, the same messages can be repeated time and time again.

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 over and over again 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.

Finally, it’s difficult to manage behaviours if we can’t manage our own. If we make an effort to manage our tone, volume and cadence we can produce better outcomes for patients, service users and learners.

For more information on how to gain skills and strategies to verbally de-escalate crisis situations, see our Verbal Intervention training programme page.

Schedule a Consultation