When you’re trying to follow a conversation, you might be so focused on what someone is saying that you miss their emotional cues, yet those cues can reflect how someone is feeling.
In conversations, this can be almost as important as what’s being said.
The human voice carries a great deal of information that offers important clues for recognising someone’s voice as well as their emotions.
How emotions affect pitch
Emotions can affect a person’s pitch when they’re speaking. When you are frightened or excited, the muscles around your voice box contract. This strains your vocal cords, causing your voice to pitch higher.
When someone is happy or angry, speech tends to be higher in overall pitch and can have a louder intensity. If you are happy or angry, you also tend to speak quickly compared to someone who’s talking with little emotion.
Beyond reading someone’s body language and facial cues, picking up the feeling and meaning in conversations takes practice. And listening for pitch isn’t always easy with a sound processor.
How to pick up emotions in conversation
So, how do you get started? Every time you walk out your front door, you have opportunities to overhear conversations around you that will help you build skills to recognise emotional cues.
Take advantage of your daily environment, wherever you are. For example, you may overhear conversations while sitting on the bus or enjoying a coffee at a café.
Focus on listening to pitch whenever you have some down time. This will help you get familiar with the voices of friends and family, as well as reading their emotions.
TedTalks are another good source for practicing, as are any podcasts that feature storytelling.
Listening for a purpose
Try to expose yourself to situations or activities that allow you to practice listening without the added focus of being part of a conversation. This is called listening for a purpose and gives you a chance to deepen your communication skills.
Having a bit of distance – physically and emotionally – is a quick and simple chance to practice listening for a purpose.
Think of these moments throughout your day as short sessions where you can listen for the emotion in a conversation without being emotionally invested.
Next time you overhear a conversation, ask yourself these questions:
- Are the people engaged in conversation talking slow or fast?
- Are they speaking at a high pitch or in lower tones?
- Can you tell the difference between voices?
- Do you notice if anyone is speaking with an accent?
- Are the speakers female or male? Adult or child?
- Are they changing topics of conversations?
Casual conversations expose you to a wider variety of speakers, voices, accents and types of conversation. Learning to listen to how someone says something beyond what they are saying can hone your ability to follow conversations more meaningfully.
There are a lot of practical tips that can help you improve your listening and communication skills. For more information, tips and resources.