In the 1970’s, Albert Mehrabian created a tool called the communication model. Within this model, he came up with the idea that only 7% of what is being communicated are the literal words. That means that according to his theory, pet owners, co-workers, and your manager are using the other 93% to understand what you’re saying. That’s a huge difference! So what makes up the remaining 93% according to Albert? Your tone, intonation, and volume account for roughly 38%, and your body language and other visual communication techniques account for about 55%.
Compare it to how you communicate with a dog... If you say, “Do you want to get neutered?” in a happy, excited voice while getting his leash and keys ready, he’s probably going to seem pretty jazzed. Your dog has used the other 93% of the communication model to think that he should be excited for what’s about to happen, regardless of what you just said. But, if you say, “Let’s go outside for a walk,” while sitting on the couch, not making eye contact and monotone, he’s using the 93% to understand that he shouldn’t be looking forward to what you just said.
Clearly, with humans, the 7% is a weighty 7%. Regardless of how you tell someone they lost their job, they will likely still understand that they lost their job. But, keeping in mind the other factors of communication can make it big difference. In this article, we’re going to stick to the 38% that represents your tone and volume, and how these play a role in your overcall communication method.
Tone essentially reflects the attitude or the feelings that are associated with your verbal message. Tone can also incorporate the inflections- such as raising your voice when asking a question, and things like laughter or breath. Generally when working in customer service, your tone will want to come across as helpful, and welcoming. A veterinarian may want to incorporate a tone that reflects honesty, and trustworthiness.
But how do you make your message sound friendly? Or come across as honest? First things first, remember that everyone is human. We all know what it’s like to be sad or scared, and we know how we want to be treated in those situations. So, if a client comes in after their pet has just been hit by a car, talking in a slow, calm, and steady tone may help them feel like your team is effectively handling the situation. If a client comes in with an elderly cat that hasn’t been eating for 48hrs, using a soft and empathetic tone may help them realize that they can trust you if you say euthanasia is the best option. If a regular client just adopted a new puppy and they are in for their first check-up, using a tone full of excitement and praise will help them feel as though bringing their newest family member to you was a good decision!
Best advice for using tone – read the situation, and talk to others how you would want to be talked to.
Volume is easier to understand in regards to communication. Essentially, volume is how loud, or quiet, you are speaking at a given time. If you are speaking in front of a group, such as calling out a pet owner’s name in the lobby, you may need to project your voice so that everyone can hear you. Or, if you are working one-on-one with a client who may have financial concerns, you may need to speak quietly as to protect the client’s privacy.
Volume can be a little tricky as some people have naturally louder voices, whereas others are soft spoken. You may be working with a very soft-spoken client, who is interpreting your message as aggressive just because you have a naturally loud or carrying voice, or vice-versa.
When trying to figure out the appropriate volume for any given conversation, consider two things. One- is what I’m saying confidential, could make someone uncomfortable, or unnecessary for others to know? If the answer is yes, it is always best to speak quietly, and if possible, move to a more private area such as a corner of the lobby or an exam room. Clients will likely appreciate your attentiveness to topics that are sensitive, such as financial information. By moving away from others (even if your voice is on the louder side) you are providing space and barriers. The second thing to consider is how the person is speaking back to you. Do they have a booming voice that carries across the room? Are they asking for clarification, or maybe hard of hearing? If the answer is yes, you can likely speak up and match the client’s volume. A key to remember here is that if the client becomes escalated and begins raising their voice out of frustration or anger, maintain your volume. Increasing your volume out of anger or frustration will only make the situation worse.
Best advice for using volume – consider whether you need to be heard by one, or by many.
One final thing that can truly help any conversation, regardless of your volume and tone, is eye contact. Especially in what might be sad, tragic, or traumatic events; it shows that you are in the moment with that person and are attentive to their situation and needs.
Communication happens quick, and takes preparation. It’s difficult to handle each client differently, all while making sure you are communicating with your co-workers and taking care of your other job responsibilities. But take the time to practice, and be reflective. If you think you did a great job with a client, acknowledge it and be proud of yourself! If you think you could have done better, take a mental note of your plans for next time.
Let us know how your clinic works on tone and volume everyday!
Suggested reading and references: