Unspoken Words: It’s Not What You Say, But How You Say It


A few days ago, I was randomly approached by a credit card sales person who tried to persuade me to sign up for a credit card. Usually I would immediately reject the person and walk away. This time around, I was surprised that I could actually joke and show interest to whatever he was promoting. I even followed him to the sales booth and almost signed up for the credit card. Yes, almost.

As I reflect on my unusual act, I’ve learned that it’s really not so much about what he said but how he said it that somehow changed my behavior towards him. Despite his sound logic and persuasive pitch, it was those unspoken words, or also known as non-verbal communication cues that left a convincing and curious impression on me.


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Think of it this way:

If I tell you that “You look great today”, while making eye contact, smiling and speaking in a friendly tone, you’ll be likely to take it as a compliment.

But, if I say the same words while rolling my eyes, shaking my head and scowling, you’ll know I’m being sarcastic and critical.


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I understand that it’s not easy to transform our thoughts into words and express them in a way that our audience can understand – more so if we are facing language barrier or limited vocabulary.

On the other hand, words are not the only source of communication. They are largely accompanied by attitudes, gestures and postures. We can say something with our tongue, but it sounds completely different with our tone of voice, gaze and general attitude.


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According to a research conducted by Professor Albert Mehrabian’s classic rule on the effectiveness of spoken communication, it helps us to understand how and why we do or do not trust certain people who are speaking to us, and also to the degree to which they can influence us.

Mehrabian found an inconsistency between the speaker’s words, tone of voice and body language as we would tend to read their meaning in the following ways:

  • 7% of meaning is in the spoken words
  • 38% of meaning is para-verbal/ vocal cues (the way those words are said, such as pitch, speed, volume, tone)
  • 55% of meaning is in non-verbal/ visual cues (facial expression, body language, eye contact, appearance)


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It is evident that the tone of voice and facial expression can have an enormous influence on an audience and the degree to which they trust a speaker.

In a nutshell, the non-verbal components of a message are really the key to its effectiveness as people take away more than 90% of the contents from body language, appearance and speaking style.

Thus, learning how to communicate our thoughts effectively is a true art as non-verbal communication skill are equally as important as verbal communication skill.


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What you say

One of the biggest challenges in communication arises when we talk about our inner world, especially about sensitive topics involving our feelings, emotions and perceptions. Besides the fact that it is not easy to put all of that into words, it’s also impossible to ignore the possible response we expect from our listener. In order to communicate something, we must always take into account the reaction we are about to produce to our listener.

This is because we don’t communicate solely to transmit information – instead we mainly seek to have an effect on our listeners. We want to appear as trusted, believed, admired, validated and understood on our intentions.

But sometimes we also seek to be respected, feared and obeyed. As such, we might tend to create confusion when we communicate. This would end up for us not to be understood but rather for people to stop understanding us.


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What’s behind what you say

This is precisely the intention that defines the essence of your message. You can complement someone to recognize their virtues, at the same time, you can also complement someone to make them feel more vulnerable to some kind of manipulation that you want to put into play

Intention, however, sometimes is not clear even to ourselves. We often think that our objective is to make someone understand their mistake, but we haven’t considered the possibility that the way we talk could sound like we’re blaming the other person instead of finding solutions.


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We also might think that the ultimate purpose is to strip our feelings raw, but we end up ignoring the fact that our purpose could backfire us as people can choose not to understand what we say.

Beyond what you say

Whether consciously or sub-consciously, first impressions are established on non-verbal communication cues with minimal cognitive effort. Mehrabian discovered that 93% of our interpersonal communication is non-verbal, leaving only 7% of communication involving actual words – making human communication a complex process.

Effective communication doesn’t only depend on the words that we use to say things, but also on the various external factors. You’ll have to take into account the moment, place and the listener. But mainly, we have to put in great effort to make sure that we’re really saying what we want to say. Because human beings are constantly communicating, the expressions on our face and the tone of our voice can have enormous influence on our impressions.


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Since a major part of our messages are release unconsciously, when we say that someone gives us negative vibes, that’s because they have communicated with their attitudes and gestures that they are apparently not trustworthy. The same applies in reverse.

Those things that we constantly communicate about ourselves tend to form the precedent for constructive, destructive or neutral bonds.

Communication through affection

As we are relational beings, the topic of communication becomes more relevant especially when it comes to the important bonds in our lives. Close bonds are filled with communicative elements, where words, silence and stares have a meaning.

This is become more important than ever for us to generate mechanisms so that messages (verbal or written) may flow in a healthy manner by eradicating certain communication habits.

Sometimes we might feel that it is difficult to identify or describe how we are feeling, which is a temporary case of what experts calls it alexithymia. Thus, affectionate communication (hugs, body posture taken during communication) can make a positive impact.


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Generally, it is important to learn how to communicate with affection, by letting the other party understand what we feel as clearly as possible to avoid the disastrous habit of guessing.

Aggressive communication always leaves deep wounds, whereby the only companions of anger must be silence and pauses. If not, we’re likely to ruin what we really meant to say. Let your affections flow spontaneously when you are calm and open to others.

To sum up

The first thing to know about improving verbal and non-verbal communication with people is that change begins with you. Instead of wasting all your energy trying to change the way people communicate with you, focus your attention on how you are communication with them.


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Therefore, good communicate requires serenity and relevance. Try to find the appropriate time, place and mood to approach difficult issues.

The fact is, what hinders your communication is not what you say but how you say it. Plus, what enriches an important bond is having the delicacy to choose the best ways to tell ourselves and other about what we feel and think in a rational way.

There is no magic bullet that will make all communications perfect. Nevertheless, you can make a difference in the way you speak to others by expressing yourself effectively. Working on the non-verbal components of your communication is an effective way to start.

❤️ xoxo

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