Research Says To Lend a Listening Ear (And Not an Eye)

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A recent study offered an interesting twist on what makes for effective listening. 

According to research, listeners who hear a speaker by phone, or with eyes closed, tend to more accurately gauge the speaker’s emotions than listeners who are also looking at the speaker by video conference or in person. 

According to an article in the journal Yale Insights, “The research suggests that simple phone calls might be sufficient for bringing together far-flung colleagues.” 

This might be good news for businesses that want to cut back on travel for face-to-face meetings. It’s also somewhat of an affirmation of what I’ve noticed in my own work. I do phone as well as in-person coaching, and while I feel confident that I’m gleaning a person’s emotions face-to-face, I have also felt that the phone coaching I do is at least as effective, even though we are at a geographic distance and I can’t see my client’s face or body language for visual clues. I can, however, hear how they are feeling through tone and word choice, and this study suggests I am probably hearing more accurately than I realize.

The study, by author Michael Kraus, PhD, of Yale University, was published this fall in the American Psychological Association journal American Psychologist®. 

This idea may seem counter-intuitive, but Kraus offers some logical explanations for why voice-only communication might be so effective. 

“There’s now a lot of discussion about how to look more confident, or how to hide certain less desirable emotion states by using non-verbal communication,” he says in the Yale Insights article. “There is a chance that people might mislead listeners with their nonverbal communication.”

 In other words—we are learning to be better at hiding our feelings with facial expressions and body language, but our voice tends to give us away. 

Another reason may be that during in-person communication a listener has many different kinds of input to focus on. “It’s difficult because you might be switching attention across those channels in order to perceive emotion,” Kraus says. “Whereas if you focus on any one that has the necessary information you’d be most accurate. Our research points to the voice as the most viable channel for emotion perception.”

Listening well is one of the most important skills to have when connecting with others, whether at work or with friends and other loved ones. Maybe it’s time to skip the Skype and have an old-fashioned phone call instead? 

To read more about this study, visit this LINK.

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