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Turning Tables On Negativity: Science for the Hospitality Industry



Hospitality is all about creating positive experiences, but what happens when negative talk creeps in? Understanding the science behind how negative vocabulary affects us can empower hospitality professionals to better prioritise fostering a healthier, more productive work environment.


The Science of Words

Our Neurological Response: Our brain's limbic system, particularly the amygdala, reacts to negative words by releasing stress hormones like cortisol. This "fight or flight" response isn't just emotional; it can lead to physical stress symptoms, crucial to understand and prevent in a physically, mentally and emotionally demanding field like hospitality.


Psychological Contagion: In psychology, there's a concept known as emotional contagion. Negative words can spread just like a cold virus spreads in a crowded space. This is particularly impactful in hospitality, where teamwork is essential. Here are the two main reasons:


  • Mimicry and Feedback: Emotional contagion often starts with mimicry, where one person unconsciously imitates the facial expressions, vocal tones, posture, or movements of another. We do this in order to ‘fit in’ with others. This mimicry can lead to experiencing similar emotions due to the feedback the brain receives from the muscles involved in these expressions. For example, smiling can actually make you feel happier because of the facial feedback hypothesis.


  • Mirror Neuron System: Neuroscience research has identified a network of cells in the brain known as mirror neurons. These neurons activate both when an individual performs an action and when they observe the same action performed by another. This mirroring process is thought to be crucial for empathy and understanding the emotions of others, thereby facilitating emotional contagion.


Why it Hits Hard in Hospitality

Hospitality relies heavily on teamwork and customer interaction. Negative words can dampen morale, decrease collaboration, and ultimately reflect in the service provided to guests. In a sector where the mood of the staff can directly influence customer satisfaction, managing the tone of workplace conversation is vital.



Strategies for Change


Recognise the Patterns:

Awareness is the first step. Notice when negative talk occurs and what triggers it.


Positive Reinforcement:

Balance negative comments with positive ones. For instance, if a coworker complains about a difficult customer, acknowledge the challenge but also highlight their skill in handling the situation.


Promote Open Communication:

Create a culture where employees feel heard. Sometimes, negative talk is a symptom of deeper issues. Addressing these can reduce the need for such talk.


Lead by Example:

Management and senior staff can set the tone. Using positive language and showing appreciation can have a ripple effect. Also, do not accept this behaviour in your people. Address it first time and every time.


Mindfulness and Stress Management: Incorporating stress management techniques, like mindfulness or brief team-building exercises, can mitigate the impact of negative talk.



In the hospitality industry particularly, understanding and addressing negative vocabulary is crucial. By combining insights from neuroscience and psychology with practical strategies, hospitality professionals can create a more positive, efficient, and enjoyable workplace.


Positive environments don't just happen; they're created through conscious effort, openness and understanding.

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