Your Voice Matters – An Interview with Dr. Nick Epley
When was the last time you sent an email, or a text, rather than making a phone call. Chances are, it was within the last 24 hours. It is often easier, takes less time and takes less energy. It is also less effective. Our voices matter, and make an impact on how our message is received. It can impact who gets hired, and who doesn’t. But don’t take my word for it.
Dr. Nick Epley is the John T. Keller Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He is regularly recognized as a leading behavioral scientist/psychologist and his research will help you not only better understand other people, but will improve your understanding of how your own mind works.
While sending written communication is often easier, more convenient or allows for more personal (or comfortable) expression for the person delivering information, it is not always optimal. Much can get “lost in translation” when there is no voice. Think of the number of times you read something and inferred something from the written message that would have been avoided had you picked up the phone. The human voice is an amazing gift.
Dr. Epley’s latest study “The Sound of Intellect” illustrates just how important one’s voice is. The entire study is available at the conclusion of this article. Here is a summary of Dr. Epley’s findings:
A person’s mental capacities, such as intellect, cannot be observed directly and so are instead inferred from indirect cues. We predicted that a person’s intellect would be conveyed most strongly through a cue closely tied to actual thinking: his or her voice. Hypothetical employers (Experiments 1-3b) and professional recruiters (Experiment 4) watched, listened, or read job candidates’ pitches about why they should be hired. Evaluators rated the candidates as more competent, thoughtful, and intelligent when they heard the pitch than when they read it and, as a result, liked the candidate more and were more interested in hiring the candidate. Adding voice to written pitches, by having trained actors (Experiment 3a) or untrained adults (Experiment 3b) read them, replicated these results. Adding visual cues through video did not influence evaluations beyond the candidate’s voice. When conveying one’s intellect, it is important for one’s voice, quite literally, to be heard.
There are a lot of gems in this study as it pertains to communication, but if I were to just list one, it would be summed up in three words. Your voice matters.
I spoke to Dr. Epley about this study, and here are his answers to a number of questions that can benefit leaders in every industry:
1). How can CEOs and other organizational leaders most effectively utilize this research?
Our data suggest that the medium through which people communicate has a specific effect on how you’re viewed by others. If you want your presence of mind to be recognized—the degree to which you’ve thought hard about a problem, can empathize with someone’s circumstance, or have carefully analyzed an issue—then it’s essential for your voice, very literally to be heard. Stripping out your voice and relying on text makes it easier for others to rely on their stereotypes about you when forming impressions. So much of modern communication happens through our fingers. Maintaining voice time is critical.
2) You distinguish between contents and capacity – how would a potential employer define capacity, and what would he or she be “listening” for, based on what you observed?
We refer to mental capacity, and it’s simply in our data a judgment about how intelligent, thoughtful, and mentally competent you are. This is a judgment about how well you are able to think, not a judgment about what you happen to be thinking. Our data do not indicate what specific semantic content people are paying attention to. It shows that paralinguistic cues in the voice has an effect on how intellectually capable you are perceived to be. Additional evidence we have suggests that pitch variance is an important cue (intonation in your voice), but other cues such as pauses and volume seem important as well. These cues all suggest you’ve got a lively mind, and that seems important for these judgments.
3) In your earlier work you delivered brilliant analysis about, among many other things, our ability to interpret others. How does your latest study tie in?
It provides more evidence about the importance of a person’s voice for communicating their mind. A person’s mind comes through their mouth, more so than the words typed through their fingers.
4) What was your biggest surprise when conducting this study?
That our professional recruiters, who interview our MBA students for a living, were affected by the presence or absence of a candidates voice every bit as much as people who imagined being recruiters (but were not selected based on this job). In fact, our professional recruiters actually showed effects that were bigger than our other participants.
Dr. Epley is the author of one of my personal favorite tomes in behavioral science, Mindwise. If you are a student of the human interaction (and we all are) or are just interested in learning more about your most valuable possession (your mind) it is a must read.