Tone and manner

Last weekend we launched the latest year group in our leadership programme As usual, we asked participants to focus on their life and career journeys so far. We get them to identify moments that have mattered along the way and use that to open their minds to the importance of emotion in business. Whether in building brands; shaping customer experiences or inspiring subordinates.

Under the curriculum ‘Leading Others’ we explored the behaviours that get the best out of us, and the worst. The things employees do that trigger behavioural reactions in leaders. Like always having to be reminded about deadlines. Practising upward delegation. And ‘telling stories’ rather than reporting progress accurately.

One of our participants told us she likes subordinates to ‘be bright, be brief and be gone’. We thought that could be a great mantra. But, upon reflection, we realised that the target audience might find that demoralising. It’s important to consider any communication from the point of view of the recipient. Reception beats transmission any day.

Before that session, I had been working down in Cape Town. This produced a number of other insights on the importance of choosing the right tone and manner in internal office conversations. Three days in the company of one of the most senior technology teams on the Continent revealed that they used humour and teasing to lubricate their departmental conversations. The problem was that not everyone found that funny. More importantly, criticising the performance of senior colleagues (and ending with a laugh) does nothing to reduce the sting. In fact, it creates resentment that festers. And that produces problems for the future, as people like to get their own back eventually.

On my way home, I boarded my flight and noted a soberly dressed young man across the aisle. I later discerned from his demeanour and conversation that he was a junior member of an audit team, en route to give some company or other bad news. Just before the doors closed an older, better dressed version of this man came aboard and took the seat in front of him. From his brusque greeting it was clear that he was senior – probably an Audit Partner. Before he strapped himself in he turned to his subordinate with a crocodile smile and said: ‘I want to thank you for sitting behind me. Now I know I can fully recline my seat without any problem.”

They both laughed, but not is the same way. It was clear that the boss was reminding the employee that he could squash him whenever he felt like it.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside

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