Mr. Absenger

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

Effective Communication Reduces Stress

By Werner Absenger, Chef de Cuisine, Cygnus 27 at Amway Grand Plaza

Leaders in the hospitality industry need to communicate effectively with people from all walks of life. A conscious awareness of the way leaders choose language and how they deliver the words brings about certain affects and effects in people. The way leaders deliver messages is one of the key tactics in reducing stress within the workplace.

Stress may improve or impair memory (1). The improvement or impairment is due to excessive workloads, isolation, lack of communication, and feeling undervalued in professional kitchens (2).

Stress and Memory: A Double Edged Sword

Lets start with a short quiz: A chef's culinary staff knows that if he/she starts spewing off profanities imbibed with the occasional degradation of an employees culinary skills and abilities, then he/she needs it done much faster than now. This is also much clearer than saying, "John, I know we are under pressure here, so could you please stop what you are doing and plate the steak first?" (Request 2)

Pertaining long-term results, in the above scenario:

A: Request 1 achieves better long-term results?
B: Request 2 achieves better long-term results?
C: None of the above, the scenario could have been avoided all along?

Pertaining significant learning, in the above scenario:

A: Request 1 lead to significant learning?
B: Request 2 lead to significant learning?
C: None of the above, the scenario could have been avoided all along?

Take a moment and ask yourself why you chose your answers. Why do you think they are the right answers?

Effective Communication

First, a definition of "Effective Communication" as it pertains to this article needs to be established. "Effective Communication" can be understood as a leader's ability to "…rally subordinates under their organization's vision, mission, and objectives" (3, p. 471). Through effective communication, effective leaders create the working environment that fosters employees' motivation and commitment to customer service. Lack of open communication is a problem because it contributes to job stress and is a major predictor, and antecedent to job burnout.

Stress, Memory and Learning

For the purpose of this article, it is sufficient to understand that stress affects the activity of different brain systems. A recent model stipulates that stress enhances memory if a person experiences stress within the context of learning (1).

The same model also stipulates that stress impairs memory and learning if a person experiences stress without a direct link to the learning experience, or long before or after learning. Stress probably disturbs memory reconsolidation in humans. Memory reconsolidation stabilizes a memory, thus facilitates learning (1).

The quiz above provides clues why the workplace could be a contributing factor to major anxiety disorders. Stress (normal anxiety) has a tendency to contribute to mastery, thus leading to personal growth. However, anxiety exists in two major forms, instinctive anxiety (innate fear) and learned anxiety (fear). Innate fear is pretty much hardwired an under genetic control. A person attains learned fear through experience (4). Innate anxiety can easily become associated through learning with a "neutral stimulus," such as a tone of voice accompanied with profanities. If the Repeating the scenario presented in the quiz above often enough could lead to an anxiety laden workforce that quivers and huddles in a corner every time the neutral stimulus (voice accompanied with plenty profanities) is presented.

When one provides communication in a non-stressful situation, employees will be able to think clearer, solve problems better and be receptive to new ideas thus ultimately, perform their jobs better (5). Effective communication helps a person with explicit-implicit memory storage. Explicit memory is the recall of people, places, objects, facts, and events. Implicit memory is a collection of processes involving several brain systems that underlie habituation, sensitization, classical conditioning, perceptual, and motor skills (4).

Because learning necessitates both explicit and implicit memory, effective communication eventually will allow employees to transform explicit memories into implicit memories. Learning to use a knife properly requires conscious attention to instructions from a teacher, conscious awareness of one's every movement while the knife in hand and conscious awareness of the fingers of the other hand and object to be cut. If communication somewhere down this line breaks down, especially in novices, an unplanned trip to the hospital will interrupt the workflow. Eventually, using the knife becomes an automatic process, requiring only unconscious motor activity.

Effective communication reduces stress while creating a work environment that fosters employees' motivation and commitment to customer service. A topic that begs to be addressed while examining effective communication is the issue of leadership style. How does leadership style factor into effective communications and how does leadership style factor into well-being of your employees?

Leadership - "Defining Self While Managing Others?"

"What is leadership?" The general assumption by many experts in the field is that leadership postulates the idea "few need to control the many". However, there is one theory that stipulates that controlling others should be the furthest from an effective leader's mind? What if a leader might be most effective only if she/he defines and manages only herself/himself? (6)

The leadership paradox is a multi-tiered model, put to trial within Fortune 500 companies, to understand the role of leadership in sustainable change, in individuals and organizations, helping said organizations move toward creativity and health. Edwin Friedman also calls it leadership by self-differentiation (6).

A self-differentiated leader is someone "…who can set their own direction, regulate their own anxiety and can stay connected to others while not responding to their anxious demands" (6, p. 2). Effective leaders will only be able to influence others and help people learn if their communication meets three factors.


A leader will only be heard when people are moving toward the leader. Forcing ideas on others will never work. Leaders invite others to come together to hear positions and hear the reasoning behind those positions. This activity presents a great shift in the emotional process of the organizational system. The process of bringing people together in this fashion fosters listening (rather than hurried activity), consideration (rather than quick solutions) and intentionality (rather than activity) (6). This "coming together" requires active participation of employees in the learning process.


Leaders who are very close suffocate those around them. Such leaders crowd employees, and by doing so, they increase anxiety. These leaders are the micro-managers, over-analyzing every significant situation (6).

Opposite are the leaders who promote anxiety by being passive and too far away. In order to achieve the operational goals, leaders must have regular contact with those around them. If leaders choose to distance themselves from uncomfortable individuals or situations, communication cannot be authentic or will not be seen as valid (6).


If a leader cannot desist from reacting to the reactions of others, the leader will be ineffective to bring about learning. A leader influences the health of an organization by either propagating anxiety to employees or acting as a calming, non-anxious presence that allows for learning to move the organization forward in solving problems (6).

If leaders start concerning themselves with the leadership paradox (defining self by defining others) and genuinely start to focus on the personal transformation necessary to achieve such a transition, leaders are more open and essentially on their way to adopt a transformational leadership style

Well-being and Leadership Style in the Hospitality Industry

Chênevert, Vandenberghe, Doucet, and Ben Ayed (7) showed that passive leaders did not provide the needed feedback that explained an organizations expectation. Passive leaders also did not provide advice to let employees know whether their present efforts advanced operational goals in the right direction. Furthermore, Chênevert et al. write that in order to reduce employees' stressors, leaders need effective communication skills.

Another study by Gill, Flaschner and Shachar (3) dealt with job stressors and transformational-leadership style in the hospitality industry. The overall finding of their study was that the degree of burnout in hospitality employees related to employees' degree of perceived stress, which in turn related to the type of leadership style of their managers.

"Raising subordinate awareness of the importance and value of designated outcomes, getting employees to transcend their own self-interests for the sake of the group or organization, and changing or increasing subordinate needs," is a hallmark of transformative leadership style write Gill, Flaschner and Shachar (3, p. 470).

Transformational leaders are keenly aware of employees' immediate needs and communicate to employees how their needs will be met through effective performance. Subordinates reporting to transformational leaders identify with more meaning in their work and are commonly more self-assured. Transformational leaders affect employees in positive ways pertaining to commitment, effort, performance, and job satisfaction. This translates into employees experiencing lower levels of stress and burnout (3).

Gill, Flaschner, and Shachar also write that it is not enough for hospitality managers to communicate the organizations goal. Managers need to break these goals down for each individual employee based on the function performed by that employee. Organizational barriers abound, a managers job requirements limit the time one can devote to one-on-one communication. Add to this language barriers, cultural barriers, staff shortages high employee turnover, etc.

Rather than helplessly throwing the arms in the air, there might be a workable solution dealing with these annoying organizational barriers and allow a leader to communicate effectively.

Communication Lessons from Graduate Training in Medical Hypnosis

People have a favored style for assembling, storing, retrieving and communicating about information throughout the processing of daily experiences. Some people favor visual information in processing information. They tend to think in pictures, remembering the visual aspects of an experience (5).

Other people favor the auditory portion of experiences, remembering conversations and sounds clearly while they engage in internal dialogue. Other people process information more in terms of kinesthetic terms. They think in terms of feelings. These people remember feelings associated with particular experiences while processing the kinesthetic aspect of an ongoing experience.

Pertaining the clinical setting one needs to remember that people process information using all of the senses all of the time. Important is the fact that if a clinician can identify a person's favored processing system, then a clinician has the advantage of adapting her communication style to the favored system. This adaptation increases the likelihood of meaningful influence in the therapeutic encounter. It should be understood that the same applies within the contextual aspects of the relationship between managers and employees.

Yapko (8) did a study on the effects of matching research subjects to their primary representational system. He found that when he matched the hypnotic induction to the preferred information processing modality of the research subject, subjects were able to experience hypnotic relaxation at a greater depth. He says:

"Think of how pleasant a day at the beach can be… so enjoyable, enlightening and peaceful…"

Consider the next statement and observe the effects of a more sensory rich statement, again adapted from Yapko (5):

"Can you remember a day at the beach… seeing the sun reflect off the waves, contrasting against the sky… hearing the soothing sounds of the waves collapsing on top of each other, you hear seagulls squawking as they playfully cross the horizon… feeling the warm rays of the sun on your skin… filling you with a feeling of comfort and peace inside."

What was just described above adheres to principles of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and can be used to make greater use of a person's resources to facilitate change.

Evidence is emerging that NLP can be used in business and teaching. However, given that there is relatively little research on NLP, this topic is somewhat controversial.

A Sensory Approach to Getting the Message Across

Petrovici (9) claims that NLP is a communications technique that adheres to principles of mind-body medicine. NLP establishes "systematic, patterned connections between neurological processes (neuro), language (linguistic), and learned behavioral strategies (programming) (p. 146).

What is human capital? Human capital permits a company to respond to ecological changes by recognizing the need for changes, budding strategies to meet the changes and proficiently executing the strategies for intricate and dynamic environments (10). Employees bring human capital into the organization and take their talent skills and implicit knowledge with them when they leave the organization.

Human capital is a resource that can be described as the skills, knowledge, expertise, judgment, and intelligence of an organization's employees. It is in an organization's best interest to do whatever it can do to foster and develop human capital in order to achieve a sustainable and competitive advantage.

NLP provides a visual, auditory and kinesthetic framework and deals with how people create their experiences through cognitive practices. Employees develop skills and experiences more effectively if information is presented and shared during interpersonal interaction in a way that matches the employee's preferred representative system of information gathering.

From a group perspective, NLP helps managers to create a positive environment that improves information sharing and skill development. As communication and interactions improve within the group, sharing and transfer of knowledge flourishes, creating tacit knowledge essential to human capital.

From an organizational perspective, NLP has the potential to enhance trust and cohesion among members in a group and within groups. Because a company's overall performance is a function of complementary interactive relationships and dialogues among all its members, a greater level of trust and coherence allow the transfer of knowledge, ideas, and innovation amongst employees.

According to Kong, NLP programming is a tool to communicate effectively with employees on an individual basis contributing directly to strategic development of human capital, affecting group and organizational processes.


Let's tackle the quiz questions again. Pertaining long-term results, the correct answer is most likely C: None of the above, the scenario could have been avoided all along. As to long-term learning, the correct answer again would be C.

For example, request 1 "Get that fricking steak plated you slow bastard" feeds on learning by fear. While it might work temporarily, it is not the most efficient way to build human capital. Even though request 2 might lead to learning, an argument could be made that if a chef did communicate the organization's vision, mission, and objectives effectively, the employee in question would have known what to do in the first place.

Stress affects employees' memory and learning was established first. Next, it was necessary to show that effective leaders concern themselves with the leadership paradox (defining self while managing others). The leadership paradox allows for adaptation of a transformational management style, setting the stage for a work environment that is conducive to lowering employees stress, affecting employees commitment, effort, performance, and job satisfaction.

Venturing into the world of medical hypnosis illuminated NLP as a communications technique that very much has the potential to make use of an employee's resources to allow for change.

Finally, elaborating on why human capital is important to a hospitality organization and how NLP, as an effective communication technique, leads to the creation of human capital showed how to give an organization a sustainable and competitive advantage. Fir Thus, the notion that effective communication not only reduces employee's job stress, but also contributes to an organization's long-term success was firmly established.

Perhaps the reader is wondering how everything I just wrote about fits into running culinary affairs here at Cygnus 27 atop the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The process of self-differentiating is an ongoing process. During stressful situations, it becomes a challenge to "repress" the innate behavior acquired through years of training in Europe with chefs who acted more like drill sergeants rather than leaders concerned with developing human capital. As far as communication goes, graduate training in medical hypnosis and mind-body medicine helped me to hone my skills in human capital building and to switch to a mostly transformational leadership style.

The leadership paradox is a powerful model that allows for a process of constant self-evaluation. The model assists me to propagate a work environment that fosters our staff's motivation and commitment. Even though accessing my mind-body medicine toolkit helps me with the daily activities and stressors associated with running a high-end, professional kitchen, that same toolkit allows me to focus on the "big picture." That big picture being Cygnus 27's mission, vision, and fiscal health, without being thrown off by the unavoidable setbacks of providing a good and service that is largely dependent on the subjective experience of the end consumer.


(1) Schwabe, L., Joëls, M., Roozendaal, B., Wolf, O. T., & Oitzl, M. S. (2012). Stress effects on memory: An update and integration. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(7), 1740-1749. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.07.002
(2) Alexander, M., MacLaren, A., O'Gorman, K., & Taheri, B. (2012). "He just didn't seem to understand the banter": Bullying or simply establishing social cohesion? Tourism Management, 33(5), 1245-1255. doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2011.11.001
(3) Gill, A. S., Flaschner, A. B., & Shachar, M. (2006). Mitigating stress and burnout by implementing transformational-leadership. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 18(6), 469-481. doi:10.1108/09596110610681511
(4) Kandel, E. R. (2007). In search of memory: The emergence of a new science of mind. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
(5) Yapko, M. (2003). Trancework: An introduction to the practice of clinical hypnosis (3rd ed.). New York: Brunner-Routledge.
(6) Robinson, G. (2002). A leadership paradox: Managing others by defining yourself (Dissertation). The Union Institute and University, Cincinnatti, OH.
(7) Chênevert, D., Vandenberghe, C., Doucet, O., & Ben Ayed, A. K. (2013). Passive leadership, role stressors, and affective organizational commitment: A time-lagged study among health care employees. Revue Européenne de Psychologie Appliquée/European Review of Applied Psychology, 63(5), 277-286. doi:10.1016/j.erap.2013.07.002
(8) Yapko, M. D. (1981). The effect of matching primary representational system predicates on hypnotic relaxation. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 23(3), 169-175. doi:10.1080/00029157.1981.10403262
(9) Petrovici, M. A. (2013). Effective methods of learning and teaching: A sensory approach. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 93, 146-150. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.09.168
(10) Kong, E. (2012). The Potential of Neuro-linguistic Programming in Human Capital Development. Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management, 10(2), 131-41.

Chef Werner Absenger, chef de cuisine, has helped propel Cygnus 27, one of the highest-ranked restaurants in Michigan, into the forefront of the state’s premier culinary scene. Chef Absenger has been with the Amway Grand Plaza for 10 years. A 20-year culinary industry veteran, he has held posts at Alpenrose Restaurant & Café in Holland, MI as chef de cuisine and executive chef, and at the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, MI where he worked in various positions ranging from chef tournant to banquet chef. Chef Absenger also honed his skills at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale, AZ and at the Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer in Vail, CO. Before joining the culinary team at the Amway Grand Plaza, Chef Absenger was an entrepreneur and operated an organic smoothie bar, Juz C, in Grand Haven, MI. As the owner, he developed the menu, concept, and theme of this healthy establishment from 2001-2003. Mr. Absenger can be contacted at 616-774-2000 or Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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