Why Your Tone of Voice Matters

Before I tell you about a piece of research that could save you from some serious relationship headaches, even being sued, I'd like to mention something about these Tips. Alexis, who looks after our franchisee satisfaction surveys, said yesterday the Tips give her "wise man moments", which is when you hear something that makes so much sense you can't believe you never thought of it before! Her comment nails what I have tried to achieve in writing the Tips over the years, not from any special wisdom I have, but more by drawing on good research, some great teachers and a fair amount of hard earned experience.

Her comment arose because we have just published a collection of these Tips in a new book called The Franchise Relationships Book of Tips. It's designed to be used for personal reflection and group learning by franchisor management teams. Please check out the sample of the book at the end of this Tip.

Now let's look at some research which cuts to the core of how communication can either build or destroy trust.

As we know, franchisees can at times become emotional and angry. This is often driven by stress and a sense of vulnerability, especially if they are struggling with profitability. At these times, communication needs to be handled sensitively or the relationship can quickly deteriorate and even lead to threats of litigation. This risk will be magnified if the franchisee feels they have been let down.

Here are some relevant lessons from research into why patients sue their doctors. Analyses of medical malpractice lawsuits show some doctors who make mistakes get sued while others who make mistakes never get sued. The reason patients file lawsuits is they experience shoddy medical care and they feel they have been treated with disrespect by being communicated with in an arrogant or patronising manner.

By reviewing video tapes of medical consultations, psychologists have identified several subtle but significant differences in the behaviour of doctors who do not get sued. As you read these you might think of how these could be applied in your work with others.

  • They spend a little more time with each patient, often just a few extra minutes.
  • They set goals together with patients on what should be achieved in each appointment and encourage patients to ask questions.
  • They listen more attentively to their patient's comments or questions.
  • They build a friendly rapport with their patients and there is often some laughter in the discussion.
  • Their tone of voice is not dominant and conveys concern.

This last point is the most significant because independent judges could predict which doctors would be sued just by the tone of their voice. The sued group had a stern, dominant tone that conveyed the doctor was not listening and was talking down to the patient.

So next time you need to communicate something important, particularly if the other person is feeling vulnerable, pay attention, not just to what you say, but how you say it.

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