“Hello” – That’s a simple way to start a conversation, but it may be more crucial than you think. Some interesting research was carried out at Glasgow University regarding how people make a decision on someone’s personality based on the tone of their voice. This study was particularly interesting as it found that it takes just a split-second of hearing someone talk, one simple ‘hello’, for listeners to form an instant impression. Everything from attractiveness, trustworthiness and dominance can be gauged by the listener on hearing that one word.  The research also found that these impressions were pretty much the same from one listener to the next.

Of course the impression someone gets in just a split second of hearing someone’s voice may not always be the correct one, but that’s not the point. The trouble is first impressions last and those impressions often dictate how the rest of the conversation will go.

It reminded me of just how important tone of voice is in communication – particularly with conflict management.  Our attitude towards someone is given away by our tone of voice, body language and facial expressions.  Although quite often people can accept no for an answer or not getting what they want, this is far less likely if they feel that the person saying no to them doesn’t care, doesn’t understand or doesn’t empathise.

When talking to someone over the phone, how we speak would be the most obvious thing we need to monitor, though actually facial expressions and body language are still important. Research shows that these physical characteristics can influence how we speak; it’s where the phrase “hear the smile” comes from in customer service training. This is because these physical characteristics are still representative of our over-all attitude and so changes our tone of voice – for better or for worse.

We may think that we can fake our tone of voice, and of course it is possible if we really try, but it’s actually not as easy as we think.  As the research demonstrated, just a single word is enough to give yourself away – however much a great Oscar winning actor you may wish to be.  However, there is one easy way to get across an understanding, empathetic, interested attitude – mean it!  Sometimes this may seem even more difficult than being an expert faker. Taking the genuine approach can be made easier by not taking the other person’s anger personally, giving people the benefit of the doubt and using active listening skills. Have a look at our previous blogs from 28th April of this year “No need to take it personally” and the 14th March “It’s good to talk, but even better to listen” for tips on how to do this. Put all this together and convey a genuine positive attitude towards your customer right from the start. It will help reduce any potential conflict you may face – as sometimes it’s the something as simple and subtle as your first hello that makes all the difference.

If you want to read more about the research on first impressions follow this link here: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25226-your-voice-betrays-your-personality-in-a-split-second.html#.U0eaoPldUvC.