We live in a world dominated by text-only communication—to our own detriment, says Nicholas Epley, the John Templeton Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and a Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow, as well as 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 Ayelet Fishbach, the Jeffrey Breakenridge Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing and an IBM Corporation Faculty Scholar. 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 Jane L. Risen, professor of behavioral science and a John E. Jeuck Faculty Fellow.
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.
Ayelet Fishbach: I love reading books. I really love reading books. And I think being able to focus on just one medium, and not being overwhelmed by the images and sounds, just having this is often what creates art. So let’s keep this in mind. Yes, there is less information, but sometimes less is more. These situations occur.
I want to move to something different, which is what you’re referring so far to, is that we are losing information. So yes, there is noise. There is loss of information. But there is another problem that might be not less and even more serious, which are biases in communication. We might also want to keep in mind that when I listen to Nick, I might hear what I want to hear.
Booth professor Jane L. Risen explores how we justify our avoidance by focusing on a different but relevant element.Why People Are Good at Avoiding Unpleasant Information
A COVID-19 Q&A with Booth professor Ayelet Fishbach on digital versus physical connection.Ayelet Fishbach: What’s the Mental Toll of Life during a Pandemic?
Booth researchers are exploring what should drive corporate decisions in the 21st century.Companies Should Focus on Profits. Shouldn’t They?
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