The Body Language of the Voice. Decoding the Sound of Silence

A Guide to Conducting Research in the Age of Covid-19: Part 8

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D./CEO

3.1 Minute Read

In our last blog “The Body Language of Fingers: Deciphering the Discourse of Digits”, we provided 10 tips on understanding the fingers. In previous blogs, we also covered reading the body language of facial micro expressions, the torso, the arms, hands and fingers—all gestures that can be seen on video conferences.

But what if you’re on an audio-only call? After all, circumstances may prevent some people from being in front of a camera (like driving) and others abhor being in front of one. Or, what if your video suddenly drops, and you’re left with only blank screens and voices? What can you learn from a person’s voice alone? Plenty.

As a body language master and qualitative moderator, I can tell you that in-person interviewing yields significantly more information than remote methods for those who can decipher the cues, but phone and video remain powerful alternatives for quickly collecting many types of data—especially now. The voice can speak without words, and if you listen for the following, you can discern a lot:

  1. Tone[1] of voice (timber of pitch, as in a “warm” or “soft” voice): Can indicate anger, frustration, surprise, or happiness, depending on context.
  2. Voice pitch[2] (high or low frequency of the voice): When a person’s voice becomes high-pitched, it is typically a sign of stress or, in the right context, deception.
  3. Audible sounds: Sounds such as gasps can signal fear, or exhaling can signal stress. This is why former FBI agent, profiler and body language expert Joe Navarro advises poker players to avoid wearing headsets[3]. This way, they can hear exhaling or gasps which could be an indication of a poor or marginal hand.
  4. Pregnant pauses: Can indicate uncertainty, discomfort, surprise, anger or deception, given the right circumstances.
  5. Uptalk: Ending sentences as though they are questions (a fav of valley girls) can signal lack of confidence, uncertainty or immaturity.
  6. Excessively loud voice: Indicates that someone is controlling, confident or agitated. By the way, people tend to tune out those with megaphone voices.
  7. Excessively soft voice: Indicates that someone may be fearful or shy.


Download our more in-depth comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of remote interviewing.

For additional information on COVID-19 visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Coronavirus information page.

Most Communication is Nonverbal. ARE YOU FLUENT?




[1] Excerpt From: Joe Navarro. “The Dictionary of Body Language.” Apple Books. 

[2] Ibid.,

[3] Navarro, Joe. 200 Poker Tells . Kindle Edition. 

Posted in