Getting the volume right

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Sometimes even if we like the content of what is being said, or appreciate the talent of musicians, the volume is so loud that it causes physical discomfort and we are simply not inclined to listen.

Yesterday I was in the park in my neighborhood for the Farmer’s market. A crafts organization joined the local vendors and provided musical entertainment. The first act was ten-year old Katya, who played acoustic guitar and has a lovely voice. Foot traffic came to a standstill around the gazebo in the center of the park as her sweet, melodious singing filled the morning air. Her sound was just right for the small park, which is why she drew a crowd and appreciative applause.

The next act was a skilled jazz band. They are good musicians and entertainers, but the speaker volume was turned up so loud that it was painful to be too close to them. Their sound overwhelmed the quiet, gentle space of the park which usually feels like a haven to me. They did not draw many people or applause, and it wasn’t because they aren’t good at what they do. It was because it felt like they were shouting, not communicating.

This got me thinking about the broader context of communication, and how important it is to not only get the content right, but also to get the volume right.

I saw a speaker once who had very useful and helpful things to say, but we were an audience of about a hundred in a medium sized conference room, and her performance seemed calibrated to reach thousands in a huge arena. I found myself tuning out because of her strident delivery. She had provided handouts so I realized later the content of her talk was good, but at the time I wasn’t able to really listen to her.

It’s been said that in order to capture someone’s attention, it’s necessary to distract the internal monologue running in their mind. It’s true that if we communicate too softly, we won’t be heard, but if we are too strident, we will be tuned out. At the right volume though, it’s easy, even pleasurable to listen and true communication has a chance to flourish.

Image by Hazzat


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Categories: Communication
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