Are You the Voice of Reason? The Influential Impact of Speaking Rather Than Writing

When your phones rings, do you ever get annoyed that someone has the nerve to want to talk? Wouldn’t a text suffice, or maybe a well-crafted email? In our age of technology, it’s easy to rely on the written word. What you may not realize, however, is that your overreliance on typing may be having a negative effect on your ability to influence others.

In a recent study, participants were presented with ideas with which they either agreed or disagreed. They listened to or read arguments about war, abortion, or music (country versus rap). The research found that those who read something they disagreed with tended to dehumanize the author—they deemed the author as “having a diminished capacity to either think or feel.” However, the participants who listened to the argument, on either video or audio file, were less dismissive and more considerate of the speaker.

In another experiment, communicators discussed their support of presidential candidates in the 2016 election. Participants then rated the communicators by listening to or reading their opinions. Akin to the prior experiment, participants devalued those who communicated an opinion they disagreed with, but those judgements were significantly tempered when the opposing opinion was heard rather than read.

[After reading a clip from a politician’s speech, one participant] was shocked by how different his reaction was toward the politician when he read the excerpt compared to when he heard it. When he read the statement, the politician seemed idiotic, but when he heard it spoken, the politician actually sounded reasonable.—Juliana Schroeder, University of California at Berkeley and faculty at the University of Chicago

In case you’d like even more proof, in another study, recruiters listened to or read pitches from job applicants. Once again, recruiters “rated a candidate as more competent, thoughtful, and intelligent when they heard a pitch rather than read it.”

With the ease of technology, maybe we’ve forgotten the power of speech. After all, it is so effortless to present our ideas through electronic communication…but maybe that effortlessness is noticeable. And maybe it’s generating a culture where our team is disengaging from or outright dismissing our priority initiatives.

We need to focus more on communicating by voice. Find ways to connect through a medium that allows your team to hear and/or see you. This does not mean we need to build a stage with a podium and stadium seating. Do a conference call. Send out a selfie video. Conduct more webinar meetings (you can even pre-tape them). It is more personable and, as the research shows, you will be perceived as more persuasive, more reasonable, and less polarizing. Or send a text and hope for the best.

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