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Yanny or Laurel? A lesson in messaging?

If you’ve been near a radio, looked at social media or pretty much been anywhere other than under a rock in the last 48 hours, you’ve heard about the “Yanny or Laurel” sound debate. Just in case you were trapped under a heavy object, the bottom line is that people are listening to a (rather poor quality) recording of a voice saying a word – some people clearly hear Laurel, while others hear Yanny. There is science explaining the “why” of it all – it involves sound frequency, quality of recording and more. However, what this ultimately demonstrates is that two people can hear the same thing and takeaway a completely different understanding.

This matters A LOT if you are in communications. Perception is a powerful force that can make what may seem clear to you mean something very different to others. This applies to what you see as well. The written word can be open to even wider (mis)interpretation.

Here’s an example I experienced last night while reading Harry Potter with my son.

“What about your brother, Charlie?” – Is Hagrid asking Charlie about his brother or asking Ron about his brother Charlie? I said the sentence both ways, changing the emphasis and tone on the word Charlie and managed to demonstrate the “emPHAsis” lesson to my son (while completely irritating him at the same time). The next sentence answered the debate – but out of context, it would be hard to know which was intended.

Here’s my big takeaway from all of this: when working on a project, remember to get an outside perspective to check tone, wording, and punctuation and to ensure that you are getting the right message across. If we can’t even agree on what we hear, and we know we bring our own biases to what we see as well, then how we perceive a written message can be very diverse. As “Yanny or Laurel” demonstrates, even simplicity of message isn’t the total answer. The best we can do is get a variety of perspectives before we assume we’ve made ourselves clear.


Written by Jane Taber

The triumph of real news
May 16, 2018