Nonverbal communication is any form of communication without the use of words, and vocal cues play a vital role. A vocal cue is a sound or inflection of the voice used to send a particular message. A vocal cue is not a word but rather a different sound made with the vocal cords. These cues play a significant role in nonverbal communication, because they either affirm the message or discredit it.
Vocal cues are used every day. For example, when you get upset with your kids in the morning while rushing them off to school and your voice rises a few octaves, your children know you mean business. This simple raising of the tone in your voice indicates nonverbally to your children that they better obey you.
Vocal cues are significant in nonverbal communication because they have the power to strengthen or weaken the verbal message. For example, if you say to your spouse, "I love you," yet you have an aggressive and angry tone in your voice, the verbal message will be weakened and confused. Vocal cues help the listener understand the message behind the words.
There are various types of vocal cues in nonverbal communication. Some of the most common--vocal tone, vocal volume, inflections in the voice, culture-specific sounds and the pace of the words--all will communicate their own message. The saying, "It's not what you say, but how you say it," is at the crux of the different types of vocal cues. Some examples are clearing the throat to get someone's attention, heavy breathing when angry or making a hissing sound to show contempt.
Vocal cues are sometimes confused with verbal communication, but vocal cues are considered nonverbal because they aren't actual words. Vocal cues are limited to sounds, expressions, tone and style of the voice without the use of words.
The purpose of vocal cues varies. At times they are used to get a person's attention; other times they are used to warn someone of danger or to send a message of appreciation to a lover. Vocal cues come in many forms, but their purpose is to always send a message. These messages are sent and received on a daily basis, most of the time triggering a response.