Tucked inside the Sunday Business section of the New York Times (June 28, 2015), I discovered an article entitled “The Mouth Is Mightier Than The Pen” written by Matt Richtel about a study revealing that an old fashioned telephone call is far better than an e mail (much less texting) for making a positive impression.

As Mr. Richtel explains:

New research shows that text-based communications may make individuals sound less intelligent and employable than when the same information is communicated orally. The findings imply that old-fashioned phone conversations or in-person visits may be more effective when trying to impress a prospective employer or, perhaps, close a deal. (Id.)

The study entitled “The Sound of Intellect” (“Study”) was conducted by Juliana Schroder and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago and appears in the June 2015 issue of Psychological Science. To test the importance of vocal cues, the researchers conducted two experiments. In the first, they recruited 18 M. B. A. candidates from the business school at the University of Chicago and asked them to prepare a brief video pitch to a prospective employer. The researchers then recruited another 162 people who were visiting the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago to evaluate these video pitches. Some of the 162 recruits watched the video, while some listened to the audio of it only, and finally others simply read a transcript of the pitch. The researchers found that those participants who either heard and/or saw the pitches “‘rated the candidates’ intellect more highly’ than those who read the transcript.” (Id.) Further, those who “…listened or watched also rated the candidates more likeable and, critically, more employable.” (Id.)

In a second experiment, the researchers asked the M. B. A. candidates to prepare a written pitch (to discount the argument that we speak differently than we write!) and again had the 162 participants evaluate it. The same result occurred. So, the researchers conducted a third experiment, this time using professional recruiters from Fortune 500 companies. Once again, the result showed that an oral communication is much better than a written communication in terms of making a better impression and showing one’s intellect and likeability.

From these experiments, the researchers concluded that;

The words that come out of a person’s mouth convey the presence of a thoughtful mind more clearly than the words typed by a person’s hands-even when those words are identical. (Study at page 27.)

In short, the way we speak- our pitch, intonation, cadence et cetera-conveys our capacity to think, to reason, and thoughtfulness; in short our intellect. (Study at page 4.) It is our voice that makes us seem more ( or less) competent, thoughtful and intelligent than another. (Study at page 12.)

The application of this research to negotiation confirms what I have always suspected; talking with someone in person, or at least by telephone provides a much greater chance and opportunity for a positive result than communicating by e mail or by text. I find that I need the verbal cues provided by the body language (if in person) or by the intonation of the voice, cadence, pitch or amplitude (if by telephone) to fully understand the nature and the extent of the communication. An email simply does not tell me whether someone is being quite serious, or is kidding or is angry, frustrated, or sincere or is simply brushing me off.

As a mediator, I find that many times what IS NOT being said is more important than what is being said; I cannot ferret this out in an e mail or a text. I cannot read “between the lines” (pun intended) in an email or text the way I can in a verbal communication! Further, I have also learned that crucial to any communication is NOT what is said, but what is heard. Again, e mails and texts make this difficult. I cannot gauge reactions after hitting the “send” button.

In short, I like this study simply because it confirms what I have suspected for many years; the best way to communicate is the old fashioned way- the way it was done long before Al Gore created the internet!

… Just something to think about!


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