Improve Staff-Guest Interaction at the Hotel Front Desk

How Interpersonal stance can help improve guest satisfaction and staff performance

How Interpersonal stance can help improve guest satisfaction and staff performance
Article update
April 1, 2024
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Table of Contents

Understanding emotions and communicate in an assertive way play a pivotal role in ensuring guest satisfaction. This exploration delves into the essence of emotions, their impact on interpersonal dynamics, and insights into interpreting guest reactions. It also explores how technology, like the Viqal System, quantifies emotions and enhances the guest experience, along with strategies for addressing stress through positive communication.

Social Construction of Emotions and Interpersonal Stances

Communication plays a vital role in human interaction, extending beyond mere words. Studies indicate that only around one-third of communicated information is conveyed through verbal language, while the remaining two-thirds rely on nonverbal cues like prosody, gestures, and facial expressions [1]. These nonverbal cues serve as powerful indicators of the speaker's emotional state [2], crucial for adhering to social conventions and effectively coordinating interactions in various situations [1]. As societies have evolved, the ability to express emotions and interpersonal stances has become instrumental in conveying messages. In the realm of hospitality, where human interaction reaches its pinnacle, the ability to quickly perceive and respond to guests' emotional states and messages is essential for successful management. In fact, response time can be as crucial as meeting guest expectations.

We find in hospitality one of the finest levels of human interaction

The skill of interpreting emotional cues from others has also developed into a vital component for achieving success in an increasingly complex society, including the hospitality industry. For instance, certain facial expressions, such as a smile, universally convey happiness or pleasure, while a raised eyebrow can indicate surprise, scepticism, or doubt [2]. Over time, these expressions and other nonverbal cues have become standardized, and deeply ingrained in social norms and cultural rules that govern how individuals interact with one another across various contexts [1].

Emotions are typically triggered by events and are instinctive and visceral in nature; they arise and dissipate swiftly. However, there are occasions when emotions persist for longer durations, and multiple emotions can coexist simultaneously. Interestingly, emotions can be inadvertently displayed to others, even when we consciously attempt to conceal them. To delve deeper into the topic of emotions in the context of hospitality, you may find the text about emotions insightful. On the other hand, interpersonal stances are more under the control of individuals, enabling them to convey messages through social cues.

Imagine a scenario: a front desk professional is handling an unsatisfied guest at a hotel. During this interaction, the focus of the front desk staff is entirely on the guest, leaving little room for self-analysis of their own gestures, expressions, and tone of voice. Once the problem has been resolved, they can mentally replay the situation while simultaneously reviewing their performance on a dashboard, examining the guest's reactions to different approaches and identifying areas for improvement.

Historical data from past situations proves invaluable in encouraging staff reflection on the outcomes of their approaches and the efficacy of their strategies for managing particular situations. Equally beneficial, managers gain a comprehensive overview of staff performance, enabling them to identify areas where they can provide enhanced support to the team.

By understanding the social construction of emotions and interpersonal stances, professionals in the hospitality industry can master the art of perceiving and responding to guests' emotional states effectively, ultimately fostering improved guest experiences and organizational success.

In summary:

  1. Nonverbal cues in communication: Communication goes beyond words, with nonverbal cues like gestures and facial expressions playing a significant role.
  2. Standardization of expressions and cues: Certain facial expressions and nonverbal cues have become standardized and deeply ingrained in social norms, influencing how people interact across different contexts.
  3. Emotions and interpersonal stances: Emotions are instinctive and can be triggered by events, while interpersonal stances are used to convey messages through social clues.
  4. Reflection and improvement in hospitality: Reflecting on past situations and guest reactions helps improve staff performance, enabling better perception and response to guests' emotions and messages for enhanced hospitality experiences.

Social Clues and Interpersonal Stance

Interpersonal stance can be defined as the linguistic means by which speakers and writers demonstrate their commitment to or attitudes about a person or proposition [4]. A prominent theory regarding interpersonal stance is the Interpersonal Circumplex [5, 7]. This theory posits that human behaviour during interpersonal communication can be represented on a two-dimensional circumplex, as illustrated in Figure 1. The circumplex encompasses the dimensions of affiliation (together versus hostile) and control (dominant versus submissive). Figure 1 demonstrates various ways to divide the circumplex into discrete categories, such as two halves (above-below, opposed-together), four quadrants, or eight octants.

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When individuals interact with one another, their behaviour is assumed to be represented by a point on the circumplex. For instance, dominant behaviour is typically associated with an individual taking the initiative. Furthermore, the theory suggests that the stance adopted by one person influences the stance taken by the interlocutor. For example, if a person displays submissive behaviour, the other person tends to naturally adopt a more dominant stance (and vice versa). In contrast, the stance along the horizontal axis elicits a similar response: together behaviour elicits together behaviour, and opposed behaviour elicits opposed behaviour [7].

Figure 1: Interpersonal stance circumplex

Interpersonal stance is distinct from other affective phenomena, as noted by [6], due to its specific manifestation within an interpersonal encounter and its intentional, strategic character that permeates the interaction. Unlike Ekman's theory of basic emotions [3], which posits that emotions are innate and universal, the interpersonal stance individuals adopt is influenced by a combination of involuntary and intentional actions, driven by social patterns (drawing upon the concept of agency in psychology [8].

Understanding and effectively managing interpersonal stance in hospitality is crucial as it encompasses the linguistic means by which individuals demonstrate their attitudes and commitment to others, impacting guests' reactions, impressions, and decisions.

The key takeaway here is that our attitude and stance have an impact on guests, who in turn react to them. This implies that we share responsibility for guests' reactions and, consequently, their impressions and decisions. Not only do staff members influence guests, but the environment, the behaviour of other guests, and the overall context in which they are situated also play significant roles.

By understanding and managing interpersonal stance effectively, hospitality professionals can create a positive atmosphere that resonates with guests and influences their experiences and decisions in a meaningful way.

Explaining Guest's Reactions

Leary's Rose model provides a framework to elucidate the various interpersonal stances or ways in which people interact with each other. These stances are characterized by two dimensions: dominance and friendliness. Dominance pertains to the degree to which a person seeks to control or influence others, while friendliness denotes the extent to which a person displays warmth and support towards others.

To comprehend Leary's Rose model more comprehensively, it is essential to consider two dimensions of emotion: arousal and valence. Arousal relates to the level of physiological activation or energy associated with an emotion, whereas valence signifies the positive or negative quality of an emotion. For more information on arousal and valence, refer to Arousal and Valence.

Emotions play a role in shaping a person's interpersonal stance by influencing their level of dominance and friendliness. For instance, emotions characterized by high arousal and negative valence, such as anger or fear, tend to elicit a dominant interpersonal stance, as individuals seek to exert control or protect themselves from others. Conversely, emotions marked by high arousal and positive valence, like excitement or passion, can lead to a dominant stance that is oriented towards achieving goals and taking risks.

Emotions with low arousal and negative valence, such as sadness or disappointment, may prompt a withdrawn or submissive interpersonal stance, as individuals may feel powerless or defeated. Conversely, emotions with low arousal and positive valence, such as contentment or relaxation, can foster a friendly and cooperative interpersonal stance, as individuals feel at ease and receptive to others.

In summary, arousal and valence are two dimensions of emotion that influence a person's interpersonal stance, as elucidated by Leary's Rose model. Understanding the interplay between these dimensions can enhance our comprehension of how emotions shape social interactions and relationships.

By recognizing the impact of emotions on interpersonal stances, hospitality professionals can gain insights into guest reactions, enabling them to tailor their approach and create positive experiences that resonate with guests' emotional states.

Measuring Guest and Staff Interpersonal Stances

In the realm of human interaction, prosody plays a vital role in discerning information about the socio-emotional state of others. However, in many instances, our focus is directed towards the conversation at hand, we may be distracted by our surroundings, or we may be under stress while resolving a guest's issue. These factors can impede our ability to accurately perceive the emotional state and interpersonal stance of the guest. Despite our best efforts in handling guest complaints, these circumstances reduce our control over the situation, often leading to suboptimal problem-solving outcomes.

Nevertheless, it is the norm to cater to and satisfy guests. Although ideally, no issues would arise, there are occasions where challenges must be addressed. The staff's mission is to effectively and promptly resolve the guest's problem or, in worst-case scenarios, mitigate the issue and prevent the escalation of the guest's stress. Even for experienced teams, complex situations can present difficulties as they encounter problems that deviate from their daily routine. While they possess knowledge and past experiences, unexpected issues outside their routine can catch them off guard.

Recognizing and interpreting nonverbal cues is not exclusive to humans alone. Computers are also being developed to detect and respond to human emotions, aiming to create more efficient applications and enhance user experiences. These affective computing systems are capable of discerning subtle changes in a user's facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language, enabling staff to adjust their responses accordingly.

The recognition of emotions and interpersonal stances based on vocal signals involves the use of classification algorithms like neural networks, support-vector machines, random forest, linear regression, and logistic function (refer to [9]). Typically, this process entails two crucial steps: extracting the relevant features and classifying the samples based on the extracted features. Recently, deep learning methods have emerged, eliminating the need for explicit feature extraction by directly performing classification on the samples.

By harnessing the power of technology to analyze vocal signals and interpret emotional cues, hospitality professionals can gain valuable insights into the emotional states and interpersonal stances of both guests and staff members. This knowledge empowers them to tailor their responses, provide more empathetic and personalized service, and ultimately enhance the overall guest experience.

Different Approaches to Different Profiles

In the realm of hospitality and positive communication, an effective strategy for de-escalating stressful behaviour is crucial. To appropriately recognize and respond to stress displayed by individuals, it is important to understand two primary categories: emotional and instrumental personalities. Emotional people arises as a response to a negative event that thwarts a person's desires, while instrumental people are premeditated and employed to achieve specific goals. Differentiating between the two types relies on observing the non-verbal behaviour of the person.

When dealing with emotional requests, supportive behaviour proves effective. De-escalators should actively listen, display empathy, and offer potential solutions to address the aggressor's underlying issues. However, when confronted with instrumental requests, excessive empathy can inadvertently reinforce the belief that instrumental requester behaviour yields desired outcomes. In such cases, a directive response that establishes boundaries on the individual's stressed behaviour and highlights the consequences thereof proves more effective.

It is important to recognize that aggression is not the sole means of accomplishing goals. Hospitality and positive communication foster a conducive environment that promotes cooperation among individuals. By demonstrating kindness, empathy, and respect, people can cultivate stronger relationships and peacefully resolve conflicts [10, 11, 12].

Acoustic sensors measuring interpersonal stance at a hotel front desk

Navigating the dynamic landscape of customer interactions in the hospitality industry can be complex, and understanding the nuances of interpersonal stances can be a game-changer. This concept, as reflected in a typical scenario at a hotel front desk, can shape the guest's experience significantly. Drawing from the lens of Orford's findings, in the below picture we observe a hospitality staff member exhibiting a dominant and competitive stance - a behavior that can potentially escalate into hostility. In such an environment, the core objective is to address and mollify the guest's issues, fostering a sense of satisfaction and understanding.

Viqal's acoustic sensors applied at a hotel front desk picking up vocal cues which are plot on Leary's Rose

Here's where Leary's theory of interpersonal stance comes into play, offering practical suggestions for the staff member. First and foremost, transitioning to a cooperative and helping stance is crucial. This implies communicating with the guest in a way that signifies a readiness to cooperate and a sincere intent to rectify their issue. For instance, phrases such as "I understand your concern and I'm here to help resolve it" can go a long way.

Secondly, embodying a submissive and positive affect can enhance the interaction. This isn't about being docile, but rather refraining from power struggles with the guest. Acknowledge their grievances, empathize, and reassure them that their concerns are being dealt with seriously. Consider using empathetic phrases like "I can see why you'd be upset" or "I'm sorry for the inconvenience you've experienced."

Thirdly, it's imperative to steer clear of hostile-dominant behaviour, as per Orford's research, which indicates such behaviour can provoke similar responses. Hence, even in the face of guest aggression, the staff member should resist reciprocating with hostility.

The next steps involve a smooth transition to a new stance, as advised by the Leary's system. Abrupt shifts in stance can be unsettling, so in a confrontational situation, the staff member should strive for a seamless shift to a more cooperative and helpful stance. Moreover, patience is key in this transformation, analogous to a short vector in the Leary's system indicating the ease of a person changing their stance.

Ultimately, the goal is to facilitate a positive interaction that efficiently addresses the guest's concerns in a gratifying manner. Achieving this will likely call for adaptability, empathy, and patience from the staff member. By understanding and applying these principles, hotel front desk staff can significantly enhance the guest experience.

How could this advice be communicated to the staff member? See below an image of how Viqal can automatically generate advice to the staff member for a specific situation.

Final Thoughts

In our daily work within the hospitality industry, we constantly engage with guests. Most interactions unfold in predictable scenarios, and staff members perform routine actions to address guests' requests. However, merely satisfying guests does not necessarily mean that we have reached the pinnacle of our service. Occasionally, unexpected issues arise, and if staff members are not attuned to the situation, they may find themselves ensnared and unable to resolve the problem optimally.

Human behaviour is responsive to the actions of others. The ability to understand and identify guest profiles, along with knowing how to engage in conversations appropriately, provides an added advantage in achieving successful problem resolution for guests, staff, and hotels alike. In today's era, we can harness the power of AI systems to support staff members and assist them in delivering exceptional interactions with guests, thereby fostering excellence in the hospitality industry.


[1] Hogan, K. and Stubbs, R. (2003). Can't get through: 8 barriers to communication. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company.

[2] Patterson, A.E. and Berg M. (2014). Exploring Nonverbal Communication through Service Learning, Journal for Civic Commitment Vol. 21.

[3] Ekman, P. 1992. An argument for basic emotions. Cognition & emotion. 6, 3–4 (1992), 169–200.

[4] Gales, T. 2011. Identifying interpersonal stance in threatening discourse: An appraisal analysis. Discourse Studies. 13, 1 (2011), 27–46.

[5] Leary, T. 1957. Interpersonal diagnosis of personality: A functional theory and methodology for personality assessment. New York: Ronald Press.

[6] Muaremi, A., Arnrich, B. and Tröster, G. 2013. Towards measuring stress with smartphones and wearable devices during workday and sleep. BioNanoScience. 3, 2 (2013), 172–183.

[7] Wiggins, J.S. 1996. An informal history of the interpersonal circumplex tradition. Journal of personality assessment. 66, 2 (1996), 217–233.

[8] Wilson, G. and Shpall, S. 2016. Action. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. E.N. Zalta, ed. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.

[9] M. El Ayadi, M. S. Kamel, and F. Karray, ‘Survey on speech emotion recognition: Features, classification schemes, and databases’, Pattern Recognit., vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 572–587, Mar. 2011.

[10] Cohen, J. (2010). Managing Aggressive Behaviour in Care Settings: Understanding and Applying Low Arousal Approaches. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

[11] Björkqvist, K., Österman, K., & Kaukiainen, A. (1992). The development of direct and indirect aggressive strategies in males and females. In A. M. Blanchard & D. C. Blanchard (Eds.), Advances in the study of aggression (pp. 51-64). Elsevier Science Publishers.

[12] Huesmann, L. R. (1988). An information processing model for the development of aggression. Aggressive behavior, 14(1), 13-24.

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Frequently Asked Questions


How important are nonverbal cues in guest communication?

Nonverbal cues, including gestures and facial expressions, constitute about two-thirds of all communication, playing a crucial role in understanding guest emotions and enhancing their experience.


What role does interpersonal stance play in the hospitality industry?

Interpersonal stance involves the attitudes and commitments expressed towards guests, significantly influencing their impressions and decisions. Proper management of these stances can lead to improved guest satisfaction.


3. How can technology improve guest interactions?

Technology can quantify emotions and interpersonal stances, providing staff with insights to tailor their communication strategies effectively, ensuring a positive guest experience.