Selling to the Right Ear


If you want to get someone to do something, speak into his right ear. Research by Dr. Luca Tommasi and Daniele Marzoli from the University Gabriele d’Annunzio in Chieti, Italy, shows not only that we have a preference for processing spoken information via our right ear, but requests made to that ear are more likely to be successful:

Tommasi and Marzoli’s three studies specifically observed ear preference during social interactions in noisy night club environments. In the first study, 286 clubbers were observed while they were talking, with loud music in the background. In total, 72 percent of interactions occurred on the right side of the listener…

In the third study, the researchers intentionally addressed 176 clubbers in either their right or their left ear when asking for a cigarette. They obtained significantly more cigarettes when they spoke to the clubbers’ right ear compared with their left. [From Science Daily – Need Something? Talk To My Right Ear.]

Of course, most sales don’t happen by yelling into one ear. Nevertheless, I think Neuromarketing readers will find some practical applications:

Dinner Seating – If more than two are dining, the key sales communicator should sit to the right of the decision-maker.

Sales Office Layout – While most communications in a typical sales office will be more or less face-to-face and binaural, it would be wise to avoid any seating layouts in which the salesperson is talking to the left side of the prospect.

Networking Events – We’ve all been to networking receptions, trade shows, and other events where one has to talk into someone’s ear to be heard over loud music or other background noise. While listeners will generally adjust their position to one that is comfortable, keep in mind the right side preference when initiating a conversation. This situation is quite similar to the one used by the researchers, and they were significantly more successful when initiating contact via the right ear.

One thing that I like about this research is that it wasn’t conducted in a structured, artificial lab setting but rather in a real world venue with unsuspecting subjects. That should increase the probability of success when putting these findings into practice.

  1. MLDina says

    That’s an interesting theory. I wonder if it’s related to the left-brain/right-brain concepts of creativity and science.

  2. Paul says

    So I know the best way to get a cigarette, but it is applicable outside of that?

  3. Roger Dooley says

    MLDina, the researchers do indeed suggest that the right ear is more receptive to speech because the left brain (wired to the right half of the body) has primary responsibility for speech processing.

    Paul, there’s a danger in extending any kind of research too far. Still, this is a sort of “small favor” test that could likely be replicated with other requests.


  4. Liz says

    This is fascinating! I just started a blog series called, “This is your brain on Children” where I’m looking at the neurobiology of mothering. This has me wondering if asking your kid to clean his room or pick up his legos would work better if spoken into the right ear? I’ll be trying it for sure!

  5. Pedro says

    A long time ago, a programming teacher told us that, if he stood into the right portion of our view in the class, he was more likely to look friendly, and when he wanted to look intimidating he would move to the other side of the front of the class. It made total sense back then, and I still think of it as a really useful advice.

    What I think is that there might be some kind of natural sense of defense that tells us that what comes from the right is safer, as in a combat or something.

    I wonder, if this really is true, would it work differently for left handed people? Or, in oriental societies, where they read and recognize* from right to left, would it work the same way?

    *by reading I mean more than just text, but all types of visual recognizing, gestalt, etc.

  6. France says

    I’m deaf in the left ear, have always sat / stood to everyone’s left my whole life. Apparently hasn’t served me well then.

  7. Roger Dooley says

    Interesting point, France. Fortunately, the majority of our conversations are binaural and the listener will tend to adjust to a comfortable position, in this case perhaps giving the right ear more exposure to the conversation.

    Pedro, linguistically right has always been favored. Right tends to have positive connotations, while left is more negative. The Latin word for left is the origin of our English word “sinister.” I don’t know about cultural variations in this perception, perhaps a reader can comment.


  8. Daycommedia says

    Did the researchers find out how many of the subjects were left-handed and how many were right-handed? I wonder if there was any co-relation between hand preference and ear preference. Hmmm. Makes me wonder….

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