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Signal to noise ratio in verbal communications

30 Mar 2016  | John Dunn

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There are two verbal communication issues I sometimes encounter which some folks just DON'T seem to understand. I write this in the first person, but I submit that these problems are commonplace.

If you and I happen to be in the same place at the same time and you are trying to say something to me but I haven't noticed it yet, then you will be talking at me instead of to me, in which case you might as well be telling things to the nearest table lamp. Be sure you really do have my attention before you lay down any important words. That's the non-technical part. Now for the technological stuff.

If we're near to some ambient noise source such as a room air conditioner or maybe there is noise coming from passing traffic and you try to talk to me at a voice level which at your own ears is of equal signal level with the ambient noise around you, a signal to noise ratio of zero decibels where you are, I will be experiencing the same noise level as you yourself and so, when your voice comes to my ears, it will have been attenuated to a sound level lower than that ambient noise, thus yielding a signal to noise ratio of less than zero decibels at my ears and what you're saying will not be intelligible. The farther away I am from you, the worse that situation will be.

In such a case, you will not succeed in getting your message through to me because the zero decibel signal to noise ratio at your ears will have degraded to less than zero decibels by the time your sounds get to my ears, which will be too low for intelligibility and maybe even too low for simple detection and getting noticed.

In other words, please speak up so you can actually be heard. I really do want to hear what you want to tell me.

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John Dunn contributed this article.

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