On a recent shopping trip I was told there’d be a surcharge for using my credit card. Since I’d been shopping in the store for about five years and didn’t recall being charged one before, I asked the shop assistant how long the surcharge had been in place.
In the space of two words, her response cost the business a loyal customer who’s spent thousands of dollars there, and would’ve spent thousands more in the future.
It wasn’t so much what she said (although I’ll concede she could have chosen better words than ‘Since for-evah!’).
What sealed it were the sneer and the air of disdain.
In the few seconds it took to reach the door, I’d already decided nothing on earth would ever make me come back.
My response might seem like an overreaction (especially when you consider I’ll now need to travel further from home to shop somewhere else), but that’s exactly the point: we don’t respond to tone of voice with common sense. It taps into our irrational gut responses – and those carry much more decision-making power than our heads ever will.
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Contrast this incident with another piece of communication I encountered the same day: the video message from Chief of Army David Morrison responding to allegations that a group of Australian Defence personnel had engaged in behaviour degrading to women.
Now nearing a million YouTube views, this video contains one of the most powerfully conveyed messages you’re ever likely to come across.
Morrison’s words have been carefully crafted to make his message clear, but it’s his tone of voice that makes this speech so hard hitting.
With his controlled rage and measured, decisive pace, Morrison must surely have the alleged perpetrators quaking in their boots. At the same time, one hopes that their victims come away with the certainty that this horrendous incident won’t be swept under the carpet and that someone will surely be wreaking vengeance on their behalf.
There’s a moral here that all of us can apply to our businesses: no matter what you want your audience to think in response to your messages, your tone of voice will dictate how they feel.
If I ask nicely, I hope you’ll share your own feelings in the comments.