Shut up n' Listen

From Strategy+Business : Researchers at the Human Dynamics Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, analyzed the speech patterns (only the physical voice signal: the measured variations in tone and pitch) of the operators on call center floors and found that they could predict accurately, after only a few seconds of listening, the ultimate success or failure of almost every call.

Successful operators, it turned out, speak little and listen much. When they do speak, their voices fluctuate strongly in amplitude and pitch, suggesting interest and responsiveness to the customer’s needs. Operators who speak with little variation come across as too determined and authoritative, but by speaking invitingly, being responsive but not pushy, a skilled operator can let callers find their own way to a sale.

This finding throws down a profound challenge to the prevailing views of organizational effectiveness. Most explanations of human behavior in the business world presume that people — be they employees, consumers, or executives — are influenced most by meaning and reasoning. It’s what gets said that matters, not how it is said. But the per­formance of these telephone operators and a growing volume of other evidence suggest that this view is seriously flawed.

In a wide variety of facets of everyday business, the keys to sustained success may actually lie in understanding the kinds of signals that are ordinarily overlooked: tone of voice, body language, the ways people congregate (or don’t), the time spent on tasks, the rhythms of workplace activity, and the patterns of social networks.


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