The importance of a clear tone of voice

There’s just a gentle swish from the sled runners and a light pat-pat-pat from the huskies’ feet as you glide through the Alaskan wilderness on the back of a dog sled.

It’s just you, the trail stretching in front.  Alongside stunted spruce are bent into crazy arcs by wind and snow. There’s no grumble of traffic, none of the usual hubbub of modern life.

Most days we’ve been running dogs. We fetch water from the creek, haul wood for the stove or just get the dogs into shape for taking clients out on dog tours.

But the start of a trip is never calm.

As soon as the dogs see a sled there’s a frenzy of barking and jumping. The first job is to get harnesses on eight leaping, wriggling balls of energy.

Once you’ve hooked your dogs to the sled’s gangline they’re desperate to go – baying and lunging. You must anchor your sled securely with a cast-iron snowhook or they’ll take off without you.

When you’re ready to go, you release the snowhook, give the command ‘let’s go!’ and step off the brake. In an instant, the dogs charge out of the yard. You can feel the G-force as your sled is whipped out on to the trail.

At break-neck speed you swerve around trees, duck to avoid low hanging branches and crash over jumble ice.

Lead dogs understand a number of commands: ‘whoa’ (stop), ‘gee’ (right) and ‘haw’ (left). And they must listen. Otherwise your life may be in danger. You could be pulled on to thin ice or over a cliff.

Or miss important signals. One day we were crossing a remote frozen lake. Muffled up in a thick parka hood I didn’t hear a plane revving in the distance.  Hidden behind a spit a Piper Cub was preparing for take off, using the lake as an impromptu airstrip.

I passed the spit and saw it headed straight for us. Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! The dogs stopped and the plane roared over our heads less than 20 feet away.

Later the same day the dogs suddenly start galloping full tilt. They’ve spotted a massive bull moose just off the trail amongst some brush. This is not good. Moose can stomp an entire dog team to death. And they’re straining to get to him. A quick ‘gee’ and my lead dog holds the team on the trail. We run safely past as the moose vanishes into the trees.

For the lead dog to hear and respond commands have to be delivered distinctly and with energy. Often yelled at the top of your voice.

So tone of voice is important even in the wilderness. Clear, concise, compelling messages really can save the day.

In an organisation you need to make sure everyone’s using the right tone of voice. Though maybe you don’t want to speak to colleagues in the same way you’d yell at a hard-headed husky.