By now we all know you can’t motivate someone directly. But what we can do is create an environment that supports a person’s natural motivation.
There are many ways to do this (just read my past blog posts of my book to get this information) but one of the most powerful environmental influencers is an authority figure’s language. A parent, teacher, pastor, supervisor, manager, or leader’s use of words can have a major impact on the people they lead.
Numerous research studies have investigated the impact words have on people’s behavior. Theses studies validate what most of us would guess.
The more positive words you use, the more positive people will think and behave. Likewise, the more negative an influencer’s words, the more negative their followers thinking and outcomes will be.
I found one study particularly interesting. It was a study led by psychologist John Bargh and focused on using words as primers. Primers are words that get people thinking in a certain direction or in a certain way. Participants in the study were given a word scramble task using either words associated with politeness like respect, courteous, graciously or words associated with rudeness such as interrupt, disturb, obnoxious. The puzzles were used to prime participants to behave in a polite way or a rude way.
Participants were then asked to participate in conversations with another person and they were timed to see how long it took the participant to interrupt the conversation.
The researchers found that the participants who had been primed with rude words interrupt significantly quicker that the participants who were primed with polite words. More than 60% of the participants primed to be rude interrupted, while less than 20% of the politely primed participants interrupted the conversation.
Another similar study (Drouvelis, Metcalfe, and Powdthavee, 2010) focused on collaboration showed that people who were primed with words such as cooperation, teamwork, collective, united, share, and trust were willing to be more generous to others and give more to charity.
Words are powerful.
Some words can damage but the right words can elevate a person, a team, and a culture.
What kind of language are you using? Success language? Fear language? Negative language? Here are some examples of words you can start integrating into your daily communication that can help activate the natural motivation of the people you lead.
Bargh, Chen, Burrows (1996) http://www.yale.edu/acmelab/articles/bargh_chen_burrows_1996.pdf
Drouvelis, Michalis and Metcalfe, Robert and Powdthavee, Nattavudh, Priming Cooperation in Social Dilemma Games. IZA Discussion Paper No. 4963. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1631098