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Phone with keyboard audio projecting

We live in a world dominated by text-only communication—to our own detriment, says Chicago Booth’s Nicholas Epley, author of Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want (2014). The intonation, pace, and volume of a voice can give listeners a peek inside our minds and offer intention and meaning that evaporate in an email or tweet.

The vast majority of us believe we’ll come off as smarter in writing, but Epley has shown time and again that spoken messages are viewed as more thoughtful, intelligent, and rational. What comes through in a voice humanizes a person, enriches connections to others, and can improve a recruiter’s impression of a job candidate. It may feel old-fashioned, but there’s value in picking up the phone.

But communication is complex, and what we hear other people saying is shaped by our own biases, observes Chicago Booth’s Ayelet Fishbach. That requires awareness of whom we’re communicating with, and trying to understand their perspectives. In general, online or phone communication cannot create the same sense of human connection as in-person meetings, Fishbach says.

A further complication is that people are adept at avoiding information they don’t want to know about, such as the calories in an indulgent menu item, according to research by Chicago Booth’s Jane L. Risen.

How Can We Improve Workplace Communication?

In this excerpt from the Chicago Booth Review's The Big Question video series, Ayelet Fishbach discusses potential biases in communication and how we might hear what we want to hear when we listen to other people.

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