Your voice may be more valuable than you think

A video series on the irreplaceable effects of spoken interaction

Mar 23, 2020

Humans are social animals. We have invested tremendous effort and ingenuity into devising new ways to communicate with each other, and the history of economic and technological progress traces those advances. But our ability to create new mediums for communication may have outstripped our ability to use or distinguish between them effectively. Research by Chicago Booth’s Nicholas Epley suggests that no matter what the next innovation in communication might be, there is no substitute for the human voice when it comes to conveying one’s humanity, intelligence, and state of mind. Recognizing that is not intuitive for many of us—but it can have important consequences for our careers and personal relationships.

1. Why your voice is a window to your mind

What’s on your mind? The people you interact with are constantly making inferences about this, just as you are in regard to them. This is no easy feat: the human brain can be in an almost innumerable variety of mental states, none of which are directly observable by others. Epley says the sound of your voice is a key part of communicating your state of mind, just as hearing someone else's is an important cue to their mental state.

2. Why you’re probably choosing the wrong mode of communication

Since the advent of movable type, technology has been making written communication easier and easier over time—so much so that in many situations, typing may feel more natural, comfortable, and effective than having a spoken conversation. But research by Epley finds that while many people expect to have better interactions over written media, they make a better impression—and in some situations, enjoy the experience more—when they use their voice.

3. To land a job, use your voice

Many job-seekers are in the habit of emailing resumes and cover letters to potential employers. Salespeople and other persuaders often send their pitches via written media as well. And while these approaches might be efficient, they leave out something important: the communicator’s voice. Research by Epley suggests that the sound of your voice is an important cue to the presence of a thoughtful, intelligent mind—and that the recipient of your message will likely regard you more positively if you convey it through speech rather than text.

4. What your voice tells others about your humanity

Amidst a climate of divisive politics and increasing polarization, it can be easy to marginalize someone else as a mindless, or heartless, creature. But Epley says that the sound of your voice can help ward off such dehumanizing tendencies. When we hear each other speak, we’re more likely to recognize the presence of a thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate mind—even if we don’t agree with what the other person is saying.