Why who you are may define what you Hear

Twenty-thousand Hertz just had a spectacular episode – Sonic Illusions. I encourage everyone to listen to it and perhaps more importantly the underlying message.

It starts off referring to the whole Yanni Laurel thing which has been explained in a number of places but one of the psychologists, Diana Deutsch, noted that the idea of sonic illusions could also be explained by dialect. She noted an instance where a two tone sound was heard one way by students in Southern California and another way by herself. While the story was about a specific type of sound, it also noted that this might account not just for sounds but also for understanding words.

But this isn’t about trying to help your New England aunt understand their Bronx-born Jewish New Yorker or how North Englanders talk with a different lazy accent than their Yorkshire counterparts. If the way you hear sounds is different, it may also be affecting the way you hear words and the way you react to conversations.

When someone who says “you should do this”, what is your impression? Are they telling you what to do or suggesting an action? We are often told it’s the tone that tells the actual request, but it may simply be their dialect and where they are from. Just as importantly, when you say “you should do this”, how it is interpreted may not simply be on using your “as-nicely-as-possible” voice, but also who you’re saying it to (obviously, you should always be nice when telling people what to do).

I may be overreaching here but I’m interested to keep this in mind in future meetings. I recall back in 2006, I was at a Southwest Fox conference and met Craig Boyd for the first time. Later in the evening, he looked at me and said “whoa, you’re really intense.” Granted I was at a developer conference and, yes, I’m a developer and I get enthusiastic, but that comment has stuck with me. The 20K podcast episode has made me try and take not just my words but my audience into consideration.

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