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Emotional Engagement—A Mantra in Search of a Technology

Emotional Engagement—A Mantra in Search of a Technology


Emotional engagement is one of those hot subjects that most have heard of but very few can actually define. What is it exactly? As with any subject, a keen observation of life in action followed by a logical analysis can shine light on the dark corners of our knowledge to bring clarity to our understanding, and, in order to be useful, a workable procedure for action that brings about desirable results. In the case of emotional engagement, it would be guests who are thrilled at the renewal or reinforcement of life and energy they experience when interacting with hotel staff. Of course, that would presuppose and require that the staff be passionate and full-of-life themselves, rather than uninspired and going through the motions.

And this is the challenge.

We seek and cherish the few “good hospitality people” who are full of life and place them on the front lines. And then judge the staff with high-sounding emotional engagement (EQ) audits, without actually defining what is emotional engagement or how to do so. An earlier article,  Love and the New Age of Service discussing the book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, makes exactly this point. The Secret is a brilliant analysis of the abilities and characteristics held in common by some successful people and exhorts people to emulate these actions by the expedient of mantras: a slogan repeated often in order to change one’s mind and thus behavior. It works up to a point, but because it fails to ask one key question—how come people fall away from these mantras in the first place—it hits a brick wall. There is a reason people are not successful, and it is not just because they do not believe they can be. They do run into failures and these do accumulate and push people down to the point where they lose their steam—no matter what The Little Engine that Could might say (the beloved 1930’s children’s story of the Little Blue (Steam) Engine who wasn’t afraid to try, saying, “I think I can! I think I can!”).

I saw its 21st Century sequel, The Secret, in the possession of a colleague while training together at a private residence at The Hamptons on Long Island this summer. She was exactly this kind of person, full of life, energy, and enthusiasm, but with no time for, no understanding of, nor ability to interact with and handle, those less driven, less emotionally engaged. In a way, she was suffering from the same issue as they—lack of emotional fluidity—stuck in the fast lane in fourth gear, whizzing past lesser mortals who are similarly stuck, but in lower gears and expectations. I experienced the same frustrating problem for years, until the subject of emotional engagement (and a few other relevant aspects of life) finally came into focus.

Hence my contention that we have a mantra (emotional engagement) in search of a definition and true understanding, and with no technology for achieving it.

Without realizing it, a recent article by another struggles with this issue, reaffirming the spiritual element of service as a counterbalance to the relentless drive to harness electronics, robotics, and technology to reach the Holy Grail of the superior guest experience: for as the author says, “providing genuine hospitality is by nature energetic and based in love and compassion for fellow human beings.” For what is emotional engagement but a reflection of the spiritual side of mankind, a fact most readily seen when we contrast humans with any of the so-called robot butlers being churned out by science and manufacturing to provide superior service—no matter how hard they might try, how sincere they may make their robots sound, their emotions will always be programmed by someone else to sound sincere, but never ever actually be “heartfelt,” never actually be convincing. See the article, Would you like your service Today Live or Programmed, Madam?  In other words, if you were a film director and saw a couple of robots acting in the year 2042, you would yell, “Cut, reshoot,” and wonder where all the really good human actors of old had gone, who could really draw in the audience with their powerful (heartfelt) acting.

Unfortunately, the premise of the article that explored the spiritual side of service leads readers straight off a cliff from the outset, targeting SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] as the bête noir/bad hat/problem: “It is obvious from the proliferation of new brands and the desperation to find new technology to improve the guest experience that there is a growing feeling that the SOP approach to custom satisfaction has become unsatisfactory, and that now the big hotel groups are searching for a solution.”

I understand the principal that SOPs might result in rote learning, and the desire to be free of restrictions, but every road needs edges if it is to be useful and functional. Without SOPs, anything goes, starting with any idea of standards. Just as drugged, insane, and/or criminal people, not guns, kill people—while law-abiding citizens do not—so, too, do uninspired writers of SOPs churn out deathly and rote SOPs that bring about uninspired levels of service in the uninspired— whereas well-written SOPs emerge from the computers of inspired managers and provide the framework for intelligent and passionate service by staff who are alive and alert. The tool, in other words, is not the culprit, and we are back to the actual challenge of how to instill life and passion into people who lack it (and for guns, how to identify and actually help people on drugs, criminals, and the insane to get over their conditions so they do not go through life half-cocked).

“The hotel industry,” continues the same author, “creates a mechanical, largely emotionless experience.” This generalized statement may be truer in the more mechanistic and conservative Western world, but it does not reflect accurately the effort by many hotels and resorts in many regions to connect emotionally with guests.

The author seeks to resolve this mechanistic level of service by recommending high-energy, emotional experiences for guests: “Our thoughts, feelings, and emotions affect our DNA either positively or negatively depending on the nature (vibration or energy) of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.” He looks forward to the day “when the first hotel group emerges from the Rut of Tradition and creates a high-energy frequency guest experience.”

So far, so good, but even this laudable goal is misconceived when considering a “low-frequency” guest’s comfort level at receiving high-frequency waves—how able and willing “slow-laners” might be to keep up with those in the fast lane.

The majority of his article refers to the religious and spiritual as bodies of relevant knowledge, yet looks inexplicably to the field of science to verify the existence of spiritual phenomenon. The operating sphere of science is and always has been the material; its path has given us the means to regrow tissue, swap organs, pollute the planet with tens of thousands of chemicals, spy on each other, and fry every man, woman and child on the planet many times over, not to mention replace the entire workforce (and one might say ultimately, the human race) with robots—but zero understanding of the spirit, who, what, where and why it is, how it functions, and how to increase its abilities; nor of the mind (what it is made of, where it is located, how it works: For instance, the idea extent for the last 137 years that the mind is the brain, is like saying hardware is the same as software).

Traditionally in religions and spirituality, mankind is conceived to have three parts: spirit, mind, and body.

In looking to scientists for the answers, the author of the article has inadvertently bought into their worldview that all is material, explaining the spiritual or mental in terms of the physical body. Psychiatrists have fallen into the same mindset. Despite their subject meaning the “healing of the soul,” they claim there is no such thing, and indeed, there is no mind either, because “the mind is the brain” (which nobody can argue, is part of the physical body). As a result, their technology focuses on cutting out or shocking the brain; and more commonly, introducing chemicals into the brain to resolve perceived mental deficiencies. The results are as one might expect of a “science” at odds with itself, but propelled onward by the twin prospects of profit and power.

And so the article author, following the conclusions of his scientist sources, wants us to believe that DNA and the heart are the sources of our energy and influence over others. Yet, again, DNA and the heart are unequivocally part of the physical body. Talking of left and right brain—again, the physical—is a commonly accepted understanding that is actually highly illogical: why does it have to be one or the other? Surely a logical solution or approach can also be creative? Surely any situation requires both applied in order to bring about an optimal solution?

When one considers the body to be the source of the mind and spirit, one tends to come up with strange ideas and unworkable theories. If one were to develop a workable theory or technology on this question of higher wavelengths, of making people passionate and alive in their service, one would have to ask why people emit low-frequency wavelengths; how they might, en masse, be persuaded to emit higher wavelengths; why people have fallen from their natural affinity for their fellows into the current materialism; why they lack passion and energy in the first place. In a way, the author of the article is blindsided by the same issue as the author of The Secret.

If these questions remain unanswered, then all exhortations for hoteliers to study complex subjects (the energy sciences, quantum science, and heart-energy research); to change hotel training methods and paradigms so as to train staff on esoteric and difficult actions (such as generating a high-frequency vibration at a distance to fill guest rooms and facilities; to teach staff “heart-coherence” exercises, “how to send love energy,” and Tonglen meditation in order to “create an ever-growing, inner desire to show compassion and loving kindness”) will result only in bemusement and a disappointing lack of change.

Such complex theories and solutions arise only because the basic truths on the subject have yet to be isolated. Truth be told, anything that is complex is so only because it has not been viewed fully and so not really understood—all truths are basically simple and obvious, once seen. Predictably, complex solutions implemented do not resolve the problem they were designed to address and instead, become the next problem to solve.

The author of the article that at least addressed the issue of life and emotional engagement is entirely correct to tilt his spiritual lance at the windmill of rote service and formulaic SOPs and I wish there were more voices like his in the wilderness; so the intent of this article is not to criticize his brave start but to move beyond a quixotic (impractical) call-to-arms into an effective crusade that can actually realize the author’s goals.

Workable Technology based on Simple Truths

To bring emotional skills and engagement for hoteliers (or indeed any profession) into the realm of the practical and executable, I would like to offer the following simplicities concerning emotional engagement, because we have found they generate the most interest in our students around the world and greatly improve employee emotional engagement and the guest experience.

Identifying EQ skills as important has been a vital first step for the hospitality industry over the last decade or so. But the current state of understanding of EQ skills is adrift: LQA standards, for instance, ask about the guest’s emotional experience, but offers no definition for emotional engagement, nor path for employee’s to engage emotionally. The assumption seems to be that humans have a de facto ability to emote effectively and so should be able to do so once told to do so. It is similar to education, where the assumption is made that if someone can read, then they can study effectively; whereas collapsing academic standards in the US, at least, show that there is a wide gap that needs to be bridged between reading a text and comprehending it—and further, being able to put it into practice.

EQ or Emotional Quotient is a fledgling subject that explores “emotional intelligence:” Like its cousin IQ, Intelligence Quotient, it is sometimes represented as a score on a standardized test (which is why the word quotient is included in both subject titles). Intelligence refers to a person’s reasoning ability, as in the following example: “When we arrived at an automobile dealership to pick up our new car, we found a mechanic working feverishly to unlock the driver’s side door so they could retrieve the keys that had been locked in the car. As I watched from the passenger side, I instinctively tried the door handle and discovered that it was unlocked. ‘Hey,’ I announced to the technician, ‘It’s open!’ To which he replied, ‘I know—I already got that side.’”

Emotional skills, on the other hand, are not a form of intelligence, but reflect a person’s empathy. Empathy is a quality that people either have or do not. In hiring front lines personnel for hospitality, we seek people who are by nature empathetic; yet if they have no understanding of emotions, they too can fail frustratingly when engaging with others. And where we try to improve emotional engagement in staff, training on the subject turns out to be frustratingly nebulous and short on actual results.

So What ARE Emotions?

Technically, emotions show reaction to, tolerance of, & ability of an individual or group to handle motion. They are the mechanism or path by which our mindset toward a subject is translated into action with the body. Simply put, emotions show how much we like or dislike a subject, how we feel about a subject, and therefore react to it.

Some people think women are emotional while men are rational. No more irrational a statement could be made, for the opposite of rational is irrational, not emotional. This worldview comes from the observation that women tend to cry—but so do men, even if they do not tear up, thanks to the admonishment that “big boys are tough and do not cry.”

The truth is that everyone has different emotions all the time toward different subjects: enthusiasm, anger, boredom, as well as grief, to name a few common ones. Some people have “no emotion” because they have sunk below the ability to express an emotion towards a subject. They tend to be wooden and unresponsive—the most obvious examples being people who are drugged and showing no emotional engagement whatsoever; behaving like robots, one might say.

Emotions are an integral part of communication: every communication comes at a particular emotional tone, and these, in addition to the meaning of the words used in the communication, need to be managed skillfully in order to reach and “touch” the other person.

The big breakthrough on the subject of EQ actually occurred 65 years ago and is woefully unknown in hospitality today: that emotions are not random and dis-related, but can be plotted according to how much or little happiness, success, and survival a person is experiencing. The higher the emotional level, the happier, more logical, responsive to communications, pleasant etc. the person proves to be—and vice versa.

It is vital to know and use this scale in order to

a) communicate effectively with guests, principals, colleagues, vendors, and anyone else breathing;


b) always leave them feeling better;


c) pick partners and maintain one’s own happiness.

Emotional engagement requires recognizing the energy wavelength of the guest and raising it to a higher level. It is not about the staff always being at a high energy level, but at the right level for each guest at the moment of interaction, and then—and this is where the magic comes in—raising that guest’s level to an even higher wavelength. Or if the guest is already at a high energy level, the service provider at least matching it, and not raining on their parade by unwittingly emitting a lower-energy level/emotion.

One might wonder where these emotional wavelengths come from.

Not from a battery pack and transmitter in one’s pocket or handbag. Not from the heart, nor DNA strands, nor one’s brain. One has to go back to the traditional understanding man has had for millennia: that there are a physical/corporal, a mental, and a spiritual component to his identity. To make a lot of research short, these wavelengths of energy are generated by the spirit—you—in response to a specific subject. When you become angry, for instance, you automatically generate the wavelength of anger. This means that, once understood and mastered, any employee can engage emotionally with any guest, and in so doing, greatly improve the guest experience and, on the way, the bottom line. Mission accomplished!

For instance, with 6% of hospitality profits disappearing into the black hole of comp’ing, it might be edifying to know that most “service recovery” can be accomplished just by communicating effectively—using the usual verbiage to handle upset guests and flanking it with the correct emotion—but this is a subject for another article.

My view is that the next major evolution in hospitality is not finding more exotic and innovative locations, activities, and experiences to attract guests, but is less costly to develop, more fundamental to our persona and mission, and closer to home—breathing new life into the people/emotional skills of staff at a time when robots and pre-programmed service are threatening to deluge us with their mechanical perfections and complete absence of life or emotional wavelengths, high or low—and thus, absence of (human) guest satisfaction.

We will win this battle by being practical in providing definitions and effective techniques for engaging emotionally with guests (and each other).

First published in Hotel Business Review, August 2016, and thereafter in 4Hoteliers, Hotel News Resource, Hotel Online, Hospitality Trends,

Por Steven Ferry

Steven Ferry is chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers and the author of bestsellers "Butlers & Household Managers 21st Century Professionals" and "Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators." He also trains and consults for the profession around the world.