April 2021 Blog:
About three years ago a study was published that suggested there was a more accurate way of listening to someone if you wanted to understand them more fully.
This study, carried out by Yale University School of Management*, suggests that if you close your eyes you will be better able to discern your companion’s true emotion and feeling. To quote Dr Michael Klaus “Our research suggests that relying on a combination of vocal and facial cues, or solely facial cues, may not be the best strategy for accurately recognising emotions or intentions of others.”
In the study Kraus (2017) describes a series of five experiments involving more than 1800 participants in the United States. Individuals were asked either to interact with another person or observe the interactions taking place. Participants were then placed in different categories and could either look but not hear, hear but not look or look and listen. A final group listened to a computerised transcription of an interaction, meaning there were no voice inflections or other clues.
The experiments’ findings were that those who only listened, without observing, were more able to identify emotions, with one exception – those who listened to the computerised excerpts did badly, being unable to identify emotion as there was no vocal inflections.
This explains how it is that we know what is going on at the other end of the phone line! Telephone counselling allows the counsellor to focus on what they hear, picking up on emotions even though they are unable to see a person’s face or read their body language. Klaus goes on to say “ ….. What we find here is that perhaps people are paying too much attention to the face – the voice might have much of the content necessary to perceive others’ internal state accurately …”
If you think in terms of listening to bird song, or a piece of music that relaxes us, most of us tend to close our eyes – the better to concentrate on the sound.
Of course, it is not that simple in a counselling room or on the internet with a camera focusing on our faces and (usually) our upper body. If any of us were to close our eyes while listening to another, the visual cue to the person talking might be – you’re not listening to me! So, if you’re tempted to close your eyes in the presence of a friend, customer, colleague, or client when listening to them – make sure they understand why!
Ref: *Article: “Voice-Only Communication Enhances Empathic Accuracy” Michal Kraus, PhD, Yale University School of Management. American Psychologist, Published online 10 Oct 2017