Can a Video Letter Improve Communication?

Have you ever felt like writing a letter after you’ve been hurt by a loved one or caused hurt? You want to communicate without being interrupted or shut out? Maybe you’ve even written a letter and sent it. Ah, you feel better! That is, until you find out that the recipient has misread your intent. But, you were so clear! What happened?

I think the main challenge is that when we write we hear our tone of voice in our heads and assume that the recipient will hear the same tone of voice. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. In research  by psychologists from ChicagoU and NYU, people receiving an email assume they have correctly interpreted the tone of the message 90 percent of the time, when in fact they were correct only half of the time. That means when you send an email or letter, that half of the time the tone will be misinterpreted, even though the recipient believes they got it right. 

 Not only do the recipients feel they are getting the tone right, when they often don’t, but the senders, because they can’t avoid hearing their own tone of voice, believe that the recipients will hear the same “tune.”

In Made to Stick—Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, the authors recount research in which people were assigned to be either “tappers” or “listeners.” The tappers could pick a song out of a list of 25 well-known songs, such as “Happy Birthday to You” and then tap out the rhythm to a listener. The listener was to try and guess the song based on the rhythm being tapped.

The listener’s job was extremely difficult. Out of 120 songs tapped, listeners correctly guessed 2.5 percent–3 songs, or 1 out of 40.

But, what was intriguing was that prior to the listeners guessing the name of the song, the tappers predicted the odds that the listeners would be correct. The tappers predicted the listeners would be right 50 percent of the time.

The tappers communicated the tune only 1 time in 40, but they thought the listeners would get it half the time.

Try it at home—it is impossible to not hear the tune if you are the tapper. It seems so obvious. Yet, the listener hears the taps as some kind of incomprehensible code.

Knowing the above, I reconsidered sending a letter I just wrote to a loved-one. I’m concerned that my words may be misinterpreted, that my tone would be misinterpreted. A face-to-face talk isn’t possible due to distance and I can’t talk over the phone with this particular person, because of a hearing impairment. So, I’m thinking about making a video letter once my Flip-UltraHD-Camcorder arrives (ordered on Christmas Day with gift $).  Then, I can upload it as a private Youtube video and send it.

That way, not only do I get to communicate my words, but I can communicate my tone of voice and my facial expressions. I can share the song in my head.

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About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

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