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Hospitality Leaders: What Kind of ‘Tone’ Are You Setting?

If you’re familiar with my blog, then you know I talk a lot about employee development. Disengagement in the workplace is nothing short of an epidemic, and it’s one that we as leaders must work to correct. I’d like to pivot the conversation though for a moment to discuss something equally important, yet often misconstrued: executive development.

Now, I know what some of you may be thinking: executives have many more growth opportunities, which are often easily afforded to them. Why the focus here? The way I see it, a truly thriving company should place equal focus on every person—from the entry-level worker to the CEO. Of course, it doesn’t always smooth out this way. When it does, however, it produces a culture of fulfilled executives pouring themselves out for the benefit of others (after all, no one can give from an empty cup). The goal here is to create an environment of symbiotic growth, wellbeing and satisfaction.

So, in what areas can executives focus on self-growth? This makes me think of a recent Tedx talk given by Laura Sicola, a leadership communication coach and founder of P.A.-based Vocal Impact Productions. Specifically, her presentation focuses on how vocal presence helps leaders better understand themselves and the impact they make.

Here are some key takeaways from Sicola’s presentation:

Strategic tonality: Improving vocal presence can start with something as simple as saying your name right, according to Sicola. When you go to introduce yourself, she says, have your voice go up with your first name, followed by a quick “sound break to indicate a word boundary,” and then down with your last name to confirm you’re finished. This, she argues, helps strengthen listeners’ focus and remembrance of you.

On the other hand, the wrong placement of tonality can have a negative effect. An example of this is ‘Upspeak,’ in which people add question-like tones at the end of their phrases and sentences (“like there’s some sort of deep-seated insecurity and pathological need for constant validation,” Sicola jokes).

It’s all about context: In many ways, tonality evokes emotion. Think about someone who has a very distinct voice, like James Earl Jones. Sicola jokes that his deep, rich voice could make the reading of a shampoo bottle label sound like poetry. Now think of Fran Drescher, who has a distinct nasally voice. Drescher has a great tone for comic relief, Sicola says, but not as a funeral director. In this case, you’d want someone with a tone that leaves you feeling at peace and relaxed.

It’s something we don’t necessarily think about, but we look for tonality in our greatest times of need. Imagine the power of tonality in the workplace. We should consider how it affects our coworkers, associates and customers. What kind of tone are they looking for? What kind of emotional responses are we evoking? How should our tone as leaders change depending on the context? 

The messenger’s voice should fit the message: When we meet someone with an unpleasant voice or who seems to lack the characteristics of the kind of person we’re looking for, we easily tune them out, Sicola explains. “We don’t even want to hear the rest of the message, no matter how important the information is,” she says. Whether we know it or not, we want the messenger’s voice to fit the message.

Note: this doesn’t mean putting on an act. As leaders, we must be authentic to who we are; however, we must keep something very important in mind. Sicola sums it up best: we need to be able to recognize which parts of our personality should shine through in a particular moment, and how to transmit that through voice and speech style.

Just as a public speaker should be aware of an audience’s preferences and needs, so too should hospitality leaders (or any leader) be aware of employees and customers to ensure openness to messages and ideologies. In the end, the way executives choose to position themselves will largely determine organizational culture, employee engagement and guest satisfaction.

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