For the purposes of this paper, a family comprised of a father, a mother, and their female child, was observed. It was concluded that these individuals were a single family due to the fact that the observer heard the child addressed the adults “dad” and “mom.” The participants were of Caucasian ethnic origins, and appeared to belong to the middle or upper-middle class. The father and the mother were of nearly the same age (approximately 30-35 years old), whereas the daughter was nearly 10 years old.
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The nonverbal communication of the participants that was observed for the purposes of this paper was the vocalics (Guerrero & Hecht, 2008). Vocalics can be defined as “vocal characteristics such as loudness, pitch, speech rate, and tone” (McCornack, 2013, p. 223). The observer was sitting close to the table that the participants occupied, which allowed for noting the peculiarities of the vocalics, but rarely – for making out concrete words.
The interactions took place in a pizza restaurant located downtown. The place was apparently designed so as to create a comfortable, even cozy atmosphere. It was lit with warm lights; the light from the bulbs was dispersed with lampshades made of matt glass. The tables were wooden. Some of the tables were surrounded by wooden chairs with soft cushions, whereas near other tables, there were couches; the visitors were free to choose whichever they preferred.
There was soft ambient music which created a comfortable background but did not draw much attention of the visitors. The restaurant offered its clients mainly a wide array of types of pizza; however, other items, such as salads, non-alcoholic beverages (e.g., juices, milk cocktails), and desserts, were also available. The observations took place on Sunday, November 5, 2017, in the evening.
The participants arrived, occupied their seats, asked the waiter for a menu, waited for it, and started choosing what to order. They considered various items; this procedure took much time, nearly 15 minutes, after which they made their order and started waiting for it to be prepared. During this process, the mother and the daughter communicated most, whereas the father rarely made any remarks. On the whole, the mother spoke with the average loudness, using the normal speech rate and the normal pitch.
Her tone usually was suggestive. However, at certain points, she raised her voice and spoke in a tone which allowed for concluding that she liked a particular item on the menu and proposed the other members of the family to order it. In these cases, her speech rate became greater, and she spoke somewhat loudly. At the same time, the daughter always seemed enthusiastic: she spoke quickly and loudly (the mother, apparently, reprimanded her and asked her to speak quieter several times, which caused the daughter to lower the loudness of her voice). The girl’s tone was usually enthusiastic, and she spoke in a high-pitched voice.
Several times, the girl resorted to “whining,” when her voice became high-pitched, and her speech rate slowed. As for the father, he remained silent most of the time; he only spoke several times, apparently, to give his approval or disapproval pertaining to females’ choice of foods to order, or to reprimand the daughter who spoke too loudly or misbehaved in some manner. The father spoke relatively quietly (but loudly enough for the other members of his family to hear him clearly) and at an average speech rate, but also in a low-pitched voice with a confident tone. When he was reprimanding the daughter, he spoke more loudly, but retained his low-pitched voice and the confident tone.
On the whole, the observations which were made for the purposes of this paper provide support for the information pertaining to vocalics that can be found in Guerrero and Hecht (2008) and in McCornack (2013). For instance, Guerrero and Hecht (2008) state that silence in communication can often be an indicator of power and confidence; this can be reinforced by certain vocalics which also convey a similar message. In the observed case, the father mostly kept silent, but when he spoke, it was in a low-pitched voice, in a confident tone, and at an average rate; all of this demonstrated his high position in the family (Guerrero & Hecht, 2008; McCornack, 2013).
The daughter would immediately stop misbehaving when the father told her to do so. At the same time, the mother sometimes spoke at the normal speech rate and with the normal pitch, but in other cases, she seemed enthusiastic (quick speech rate, louder voice, slightly higher pitch). The daughter was enthusiastic most of the time (quick speech rate, loud voice, somewhat high pitch), and her tone suggested that she liked being in the restaurant and choosing what to order.
Therefore, the interactions that were observed for the current paper allowed for supporting the information found in the course books and providing a concrete example of them in the real life. Form the observations, it was apparent that such aspects of the voice message as the pitch, the speech rate, the tone and the loudness can supply a considerable amount of information about the relationships which exist in a group of communicating individuals, and even offer insights on what they are doing or discussing at the moment, providing that the specifics of the environment (i.e., when it can be seen that the communicating persons are looking at the menu in a restaurant) and some characteristics of these people (e.g., the fact that they are a family) are taken in account.
Guerrero, L. K., & Hecht, M. L. (2008). The nonverbal communication reader (3rd ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.
McCornack, S. (2013). Reflect & relate: An introduction to interpersonal communication (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.