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  • Writer's pictureTravis Bogard

When nuance matters, communicate with voice

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

We’ve all been there, our email or text messages are misunderstood. Sometimes the meaning is lost, where the audience doesn’t understand or misconstrues what is actually being said. Other times, the intent is misunderstood, and we are interpreted as rude or dismissive or lacking humor.

You’ve probably heard the example of the sentence “I didn’t say he stole the money.”, where emphasizing each word differently totally changes the meaning of the same words.

Why does this happen? I think we all intuitively know that text and email are easy to be misunderstood, but why is this so consistently the case and what can we do about it?

The results of two studies by Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology (UCLA), provide some insight into what may be happening in these written word-only situations. These studies led to the 7-38-55 rule, which says that 7% of communication are the actual words, 38% was how these words were said, and 55% were non-verbal cues like eye contact, gestures, posture, etc. While these studies were limited and not intended to mean 93% of information is lost when the written form is used, it was an important contribution to psychology and our understanding of how we use the variety of senses to inform our understanding of a person’s communication and how we process conflicting signals between the words said vs the way they are said.

Regardless of the exact percentages, what is clear is that when we only have the written words, we lose our voice, which is a significant part of how we communicate and what humans rely on to fully understand each other.

While these studies showed the value of verbal cues in comparison to written words, at the core they were focused on the role that nonverbal cues, such as body language, play in communication. What is interesting is that we also know that many of these nonverbal cues can actually be heard, even when not seen. Someone sounds different when they are smiling versus frowning, or standing up versus slouched over. In fact, research by UC Berkeley found and mapped 24 emotions that come through in the small sounds we make with our voices.

At a practical level, this all seems to conclude that voice communication is a stronger form of communication for many distributed conversations, as the digital capture of video often creates conflicting non-verbal signals that negates our message. Recent studies around the fatigue of video and the importance of building emotional connection and empathic accuracy have seemed to reinforce this idea.

If you want to get your point across where nuance, empathy, and human connection matters, using your voice is a more effective format to communicate your full meaning.

Text is great when the content is factual, well structured, or visual. However, if you want to get your point across where nuance, empathy, and human connection matters, using your voice is a more effective format to communicate your full meaning.

Carbon Voice is on a mission to help bring the best of both worlds, where we combine the super power of voice as a communication format with the time-shifting flexibility that has made text formats so prevalent. We look forward to hearing how your communication becomes more clear and more human as you bring your voice back to the conversations.

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