Business Protocol for the Global Manager , Tune in to TONES!

Posted by: chacko on Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

A key element in communications, apart from those discussed earlier – is TONE. Tone is one of the six aspects of paralinguistics. And paralinguistics gives colour and flavour to the meaning of words. The other dimensions are Volume; Speed; Emphasis; Pitch and Quality. Para linguistics is probably as important to the global manager, as to actors on stage and in cinema! And yet, paralinguistics is not given the time and importance that it deserves.

Different cultures have different leanings towards volume and tone. Indians lay great emphasis on Volume. They talk loud; even when it is not necessary. Someone once gave me the explanation that this is because Indians believe that the world started with the sound of Shiva’s drum – which created the holy sound of ‘OM’. Therefore, it is a cultural thing. This may be true to some extent but I do not accept this totally. Because Italians are also loud; and so are many of the South Americans. How does one explain that?

The Italians, Spanish and Portuguese will be moderately high in volume, with wide variations in tone, and a special knack for emphasis – which make their speech more colourful. Those in South America follow a similar pattern, not unsurprisingly, considering their Spanish or Portuguese origins.

People in Scandinavian countries and in the UK, speak softly, though clearly. If they are talking on the mobile, it would seem to be a whisper. They cannot be overheard. On the other hand, when a young lady behind me on the road in Mumbai said a cheery ‘hello’, I turned back. I thought she was addressing me. Actually, she had just got a call and she was responding. For as long as she walked alongside, I could not help but overhear the whole conversation.

The Japanese will speak softly – low volume, and low tone and while the Koreans will appear to do likewise in normal business situations; the volume and tone will increase to high levels after a few drinks in the evening. Australians will appear to be loud in general – although this will also depend on the ethnic origin of the Australian.

It is interesting to observe some of the ‘tonal’ languages – like Thai. The same word in Thai, has two different meanings, based on the tone that has been used. This is what makes Thai a more difficult language to learn and master.

Using the right tone is even more important in situations where you cannot be seen, like speaking on the telephone. Telephone operators in USA have mastered the art of speaking on the telephone. They use the right tone – cheery, welcoming, with clear articulation and creating an ambience of helpfulness. I have not seen any other country perfect telephone conversation into an art. In person, she may be sharp or even seem curt. But on the telephone, she is perfect!

In most countries, the tone used also varies at different levels of management. The more senior, will use a tone of authority, which comes with age and position. Even at the booking office at the Cineplex, among people buying tickets, it is possible to gauge a person’s rank, based on his tone.

In many Asian countries, bosses are expected to have a paternalistic attitude, rather than a ‘superior’ attitude. And this is reflected in his tone. When a Western manager on an oil rig in Indonesia berated an Indonesian subordinate for not doing a job, and used the wrong volume and tone, and in public – in the presence of all his colleagues; there was a mini revolution from the work force. The Manager who had barricaded himself in his cabin, had to be rescued by a helicopter sent from land!

Therefore global managers need to do some study of paralinguistics – because in their travels around the world, the apparently small matter of tone – can make a big difference in business outcomes.

Topics: Blog


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