What Do You Hear…Yanny or Laurel?

A few months ago, the world was briefly consumed on both social media and within global pop culture with listening to an audio recording of a man’s voice. Split right down the middle, about half of the listeners heard the word “yanny” while the other half heard the word “laurel.” (You may recall a similar discussion few years earlier about the picture of a dress that to some people appeared gold and to others appeared blue).

After a few days of discussion and even after some scientific analysis it was revealed that that the recorded word was actually “laurel” but that some people heard “yanny” due to a number of factors including the quality of the recording as well as each individual’s ability to hear certain frequencies. One outlet even created the sound clip with a slider to change the frequency to allow you to hear both words. (As a side note, I always heard the word “yanny” so I am not sure what that says about me or my hearing!)

While this was just another viral “pop culture” discussion, there were a few pundits (H/T to Greg Gutfeld) that thought that this experience was also an interesting metaphor for how we as humans may see or listen to the same thing, yet see or hear something completely different. This seems most apparent with current events, politics, religion and even with discussions within our workplace.

Looking at a political example (without hopefully getting too political), I enjoy watching political focus groups on TV where they get a room full of individuals from across the political spectrum and show them either a sound bite, political ad, or a speech to get their individual reactions and responses. The moderator then asks individuals “what they heard” and it amazes me how different the interpretations are, even though they are all listening to the same “words” coming out of the individual’s mouth. If you align with one side of the spectrum or the other, you are probably wondering, “How did they possibly hear that?”

There are of course a number of variables that may contribute to these differences in individual reactions and responses. Bias and more specifically, “political bias” is likely at the top of the list. In this case, the person listening either “reads into” what they heard (or thought they heard) or draws their own conclusion based upon their bias. In these instances, some individuals will “hear” what may best fit their already established beliefs or biases. Some argue that this basic concept has resulted in the polarization and political divide that exists in our country today, foregoing the ability to look at both sides of the issue.

So what impact does this concept have in the workplace? The workplace is not immune to bias, and if anything; may be one of the areas of our life that houses the most bias and in some cases, a related distrust. An example would be a speech given by a company’s Chief Executive Officer. During an all-company address, the CEO may talk about the state of the organization, financial stability, future plans, etc. Each constituency within the organization (employees, management, shareholders, the public, etc.) may all listen to the same speech, but may individually hear something entirely different. Common terms that could be found in a typical “state of the organization speech” such as “positive change”, “risk averse” or “improved bottom line” may evoke an entirely different reaction and response from individuals depending upon the interpretation of each constituency. Assuming the message is both open and accurate (yes, for some organizations this could pose a huge “IF”); it may still be heard differently, depending upon past history, bias, or other workplace circumstances.

In all walks of life, it is impossible to ensure 100 percent of the time that a message that is delivered will be both heard and interpreted in the same, consistent way. It then becomes critically important, not only in the workplace, but I will argue with life in general, to have and to promote an open dialogue where questions can be asked and answered freely and honestly if there is any confusion or concern with the message.

As ridiculous as it would be for those of us that heard “yanny” vs those of us that heard “laurel” in the audio clip to go off in their separate corners; condemn, demean, and ridicule those that didn’t hear the same thing that we heard, this unfortunately happens in some of the other areas of life that I previously described. Take the time and effort to both listen AND hear, and if you are not sure, ask questions and then actually listen to the answer(s). This can often happen even with non-verbal messages (Hello, Twitter anyone? It is amazing how much discourse can be stirred up within a mere 280 character post…intentionally not mentioning any names!)

Yes, this is simple advice, but advice that is still worth repeating. Often times, listening to (and reading) the same words or message with a clearer and open perspective can help make the difference and may even allow you to hear both “yanny” and “laurel.”

What do you hear? Link to original “Yanny vs Laurel’ audio clip” on Twitter

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