Read Emotions by Deep Listening

“To read accurately how someone is feeling, voice maybe best” is the message of a recent study at Yale University published by the American Psychological Association.

The study compares different channels of communication – voice, face, non-verbal – with the question how well people are able to read emotions.

The result: voice is best, relative to all channels of communications for perceiving emotions accurately in interactions of people.

It's surprising. We're so used to thinking that visual cues in particular are hugely important. They are still important. But maybe we spend a little bit too much time on vision, in part because a lot of the emotion research started there - for good reason. We use our facial muscles to convey emotion. But we're missing a piece that actually comes “online” a bit sooner than vision, which is the voice.

What does this mean for our typical channels of communication?

1) Telephone Conversation

The study contains certainly an encouraging message for all our telephone talks.

And some of us might still remember the times when we were fascinated by the power of voices in a radio adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Or when we listen to an audio book. Exactly that happens in a conversation over the telephone. A trained or sensitive person will be deeply listening with all her or his senses and will understand in great depth the emotional messages and moods from a partner on the other side of the line.

2) Talking over a Audio/Video Channel like Skype

We live very much in a visual world. We have become used to video conferences, audio-video messages from the YouTube channel or just simple video clips for transferring a message. With this in mind we find it completely natural and effective to use Skype or any other technology like Zoom for various meetings. The result of the study might inspire us to put more emphasis to our listening and explore the client’s tone or modulation of voice. Should an audio-purist feel distracted by the facial expressions or body movements of a partner, there still exists the possibility to shut down the camera. Something we do anyhow, if there is a poor connection.

3) Talk in physical presence with a persion

Is the above research an argument to abolish talks in a fine office, a café or a restaurant? Absolutely not. Here I am a strong believer in the importance of our original senses of smelling, touching and being near a person – besides listening. After all, this is the way how we learn as a newborn human being. These connections are too precious and they reveal a lot in addition to our listening.

It all comes back to listening to what people are saying. By deep listening with all our senses we have the key for accurately understanding their emotions:

“If you want to know how someone is feeling, it might be better to close your eyes and use your ears”.

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