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21 Nov 2011

Want to Motivate? Beware of What You Say

So, the boss walks in and harshly reprimands an employee. Unknowingly, she probably just shot his productivity down for the day. A while ago I worked with a company in which it was fairly common practice for the owner to come in late Monday morning and severely reprimand his employees. I witnessed what that did to their productivity for the week.

What we often don’t realize is how much words, phrasing and general conversation can affect people. In the November/December 2011 issue of Scientific American Mind, Tori Rodriguez in her article, “What Just Happened?”, cites several studies including ones in which:

  • “. . . people who were unconsciously exposed to images of fast-food logos became more impatient . . .”
  • “ . . . when participants recalled an illness-related memory, their pain tolerance decreased.”
  • Participants were “unknowingly primed toward goal pursuit” simply by reading something “that included words such as ‘success’ and ‘achieve.’”

While Rodriguez recommends that we become more aware of this “priming” as she calls it by recalling what we “saw, heard and thought about in the past few minutes,” we can also raise our awareness concerning how we negatively influence people accidentally. Moreover, we could use this priming for good. For instance, simply wishing people luck can improve their productivity and performance.

That means we need to beware of that “constructive criticism” we offer. If it really is that constructive and helpful, we should position it as advice, assistance or simply help. Consider too, if we never compliment an employee. It’s as though we never watered a plant.

Next time you want to motivate someone, it might be as simple as talking about something positive, enjoyable and yes, even humorous.


2 Responses

  1. Hello Mike,

    This article was a great reminder of how our everyday words and gestures affect people. Employers especially don’t realize that their actions have a huge impact on their employees’ motivation. Just as harsh words can decrease their productivity, showing appreciation of their hard work can increase it. A simple way to do this is by offering your staff corporate discounts which saves your employees money and is free for the company to offer. This is an easy and cost efficient way to acknowledge your employees and keep them motivated. I look forward to future posts from you.


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