Ignore the Verbal Channel

If you’ve ever read a book on body language or perfecting your public speaking abilities, then you’ve probably come across the statistic touting that our verbal language skills only account for approximately 7% to 15% of all communications. The other 85% is comprised of:

  • Vocal tonality (calm and slow, loud and forceful, terse and upset, tense and chatty etc.)
  • Facial expressions (direct eye contact, nervous sideways glances, smiling, frowning etc.)
  • Body movements (posture, hand gestures, fidgeting, gait etc.)

I bring this up because every so often I come across a published article discussing how hotel employees should talk with guests; 99 times out of 100, the focal point is on what phrases staff members should say or what utterances should be deemed off-limits. Essentially, it’s little different than the training given to telemarketers. But the instruction we give our staffers must go far beyond this because we interact with guests face-to-face, which is both simultaneously easier in many ways and much harder in several others.

Although there’s nothing wrong in debating the verbal channel where improvement is a consummate process (and indeed I’m guilty of over-focusing on this at times), more attention must be given to the other more significant aspects of communication. The first step is an overt education on best practices for vocal tonality, facial expressiveness and proper body language. Much of this process boils down to practice makes perfect.

A better approach would be to use oral scripts as launch pads for fixing and developing the other forms of communication so that all four channels are congruent. There are so many situational examples to fill this topic that you could write a whole book on it (and many already have been written!), so I’ll cover two just to give you an idea of where my head is at.

A frantic guest arrives at front desk with urgent request. Now is not the time for quips and a flashy grin. Such a guest needs reassurance and any panic would best be met with a composed, attentive disposition. The guest’s anxiety is likely from his or her own mistake or misinterpretation, but this is never an excuse for staffers to get defensive. A front desk clerk might initiate the response effort with, “I’m so sorry. That’s terrible news. I’ll do everything I can to help you right away.” spoken in a calm but direct tone and matched with a genuinely concerned facial expression. Then it’s off to the races, working as fast as possible to fulfill the guest’s request.

An energetic guest asks an employee in the lobby about the restaurant menu. When a visitor approaches with an elated energy about them, it’s not the time for the subdued, dispirited temperament that you’d apply to the worried guest in the abovementioned example. In this case, you should aim to match their vigor while still maintaining your professional decorum. Melancholy or fatigue shouldn’t be outwardly expressed (although free coffee in the break room certainly helps with this). The employees you put out on the lobby floor must be selected for their positivity and elevated energy levels. So, a correct scripted response might be, “Yes! I’d love to tell you what I know about menu! It’s delicious! Have you eaten there yet?” Notice the exclamation marks and the overtly positive energy that they inscribe. Throw in some smiles and lively posturing and you’re on your way. When a guest in a happy state of mind, you can heighten this mood by exuding a likewise energy and, of course, by actually being helpful.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in eHotelier on December 23, 2013)

Larry MogelonskyIgnore the Verbal Channel