Tapper and listener study a communication essential

Use the lessons of the Tapper and Listener in business communication

How clear is your communication really?

A great example of poor communication skills is the tapper, listener experiments conducted in 1990 by Elizabeth Newton at Stanford for her Phd in psychology. The study was of a simple game where people were assigned one of two roles, “tappers” or “listeners.” Tappers tapped out a well-known song, such as “Happy Birthday”, while the listener had to guess the tune from the rhythm. The resulting guesses were far poorer than the tapper had guessed when asked to guess the results.


This is the result of the phenomenon of the tapper hearing the tune playing in their head while the listener only hears a “tap tap” sound.

Try it yourself.Tapper and listener

In Communication this is a potential problem where the information we know and our feeling seem obvious to us, while to the listener they are a meaningless bunch of words or taps. The Tapper and listener study shows how our assumptions can hinder communication effectiveness.

How often have you wondered why someone listening to you talk is just so “slow” or “stupid”? The message seems blatantly obvious to you. Maybe you are falling into the Tapper and listener trap. The ideas and feelings you hold are like music to the tapper, full of detail and dimension in your mind. We cannot engage our customers or staff with poor assumptive communication. When we seek feedback we gain perspective as to where our message was effectively received, or not.

Stop, take a deep breath and examine the clarity of your communication. Try changing your assumptions that “everyone knows … “. Tell them a story that explains what you mean. Using stories and analogies can clarify communication.

Create One Clear Message by using the lessons from the Tapper and Listener

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Richard Riche

Change Communication and Employee Engagement specialist at One Clear Message Consulting
Richard specialises in helping you build real human communication skills. Employee Engagement / Experience, Emotional Intelligence skills, building high performance teams and a great place you want to work. TED style speaking and presentation skills. Training, consulting and coaching.
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