If you have something important to say to someone, you already know that you should show up in person or pick up the phone. Don't send an email or text. But do you know the science behind why? It's not that your words might get mis-interpreted. Sure, that's possible, but that's not the real reason why speaking to someone is more persuasive than writing to them. And it's not that emails are seen as less formal. Although that's true too, it's not the reason why you should speak to someone.

It's all about the brain -- When you listen to someone talking your brain starts working in sync with the speaker. Here's what researcher Greg Stephens discovered: He put some participants in his research study in an fMRI machine and recorded them speaking. He also recorded their brain activity. Then he had other participants listen to the recordings while they were also in an fMRI machine, and he recorded their brains too.

Brain syncing -- What he found is that as someone is listening to someone else talk, the brain patterns of the two people mirror each other. There is a slight delay, which corresponds to the time it takes for the communication to occur. He compared this with having people listen to someone talk in a language they did not understand. In that case the brains did not sync up.  

Syncing + anticipation = understanding -- In Stephen’s study, the more the brains were synced up the more the listener understood the ideas and message from the speaker. And by watching what parts of the brain were lighting up, Stephens could see that the parts of the brain that have to do with prediction and anticipation were active. The more active they were, the more successful was the communication.

Social parts light up too -- Stephens noted that the parts of the brain that have to do with social interaction were also synced, including areas known to be involved in processing social information crucial for successful communication, including the capacity to discern the beliefs, desires, and goals of others.

So the next time you have something important to say, say it, don't write it. Hearing someone speak is more powerful and persuasive than reading.

Uh oh, I guess that means I should have recorded this blog post! 

What do you think? Have you experienced a difference in written vs. spoken communication?

Here's the research:

Stephens, Greg, Silbert, L., & Hasson, U. (2010). Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 27, 2010.

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