• Adam Tarnow

Disney World vs. Universal Studios

I have survivor’s guilt. My family and I missed the winter weather event of the century here in Dallas.


I want to think it was perfect planning. It wasn’t. It was dumb luck.


Six weeks ago, we planned a trip to Disney World with friends. We were able to leave Dallas just before Winter Storm Viola hit.



The original plan was to visit Disney World for three days and then fly home. Due to the weather, we extended it a few days and visited Universal Studios too.


Disney World and Universal Studios were very different experiences. It took me a few days to determine why one felt different from the other.


I think I’ve figured it out. It all boils down to tone. In every interaction, Disney communicated with a more hopeful tone than Universal.


When I say tone, I mean the inflection of your mood or emotion. You see, according to Albert Mehrabian, there are three components to communication: (1) our words, (2) our body language, and (3) our tone.


His research discovered that 38% of meaning is communicated through tone. What this means is the mood or emotion that comes through when we communicate matters.


To me, this was the most significant difference between the two resorts. Universal’s communication felt dark and less upbeat. Their tone negatively impacted my experience under their leadership.


Disney’s tone was different. All of their communication sounded hopeful, optimistic, upbeat, and positive.


This really impressed me. It’s not like Disney’s life has been “easy.” They had a rough 2020. They were closed for 116 days in a row. That is devastating for any business, especially one like Walt Disney World.


However, when they opened back up, they had a choice. Change their tone to match the mood and emotion of the world or stay true to their values. They chose to stay true to their values and continued to communicate with a tone of optimism.


Is it working? Ah, yeah. Let’s say we were not the only people down there last week acting like good American’s doing what they can to stimulate the economy.


As a leader, we have the same choice. Tone is a deliberate decision more than a reflection of your current reality.


I’ve noticed that my mood and emotions often follow my words. Not the other way around. If I communicate in a pessimistic, down, dark, or hopeless way, I rarely feel better.


However, if I use hopeful, optimistic, and upbeat language, it does impact my life positively. Regardless of my current reality.


I wonder if Disney’s cracked a code. Are they the “happiest place on earth” because they always face great circumstances or because they carefully choose their tone? I’d put my money on the latter.


Positivity and optimism inspire. Sometimes, as a leader, it’s more about how you communicate than it is about what you communicate.


So, today, choose your tone wisely. The feeling you create for your team matters.

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