The Science of Pep Talks

There’s been many times in life I’ve had to get “psyched up”.

Whether it was for a test, a swim meet, a presentation, or asking my future wife to marry me, I knew I had to be at my best.

I’ve used a variety of ways to get into the right mind set – visualization, music, inspirational quotes, etc., and I guess they’ve worked (Exhibit A, 35 year marriage).

Little did I know that there is a science to these pep talks in terms of what makes them effective.

In the current issue of Harvard Business Review, Daniel McGinn shares the work of Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield, a husband-and-wife team at Texas A&M International University who have studied the applications of  motivating language theory, or MLT, in the corporate world for nearly three decades.

According to the science behind using language to motivate, most successful formulas include three key elements: direction giving, expressions of empathy, and meaning making.

The Mayfields describe direction giving as the use of “uncertainty-reducing language.” This is when leaders provide information about precisely how to do the task at hand by, for example, giving easily understandable instructions, good definitions of tasks, and detail on how performance will be evaluated.

Empathetic language” shows concern for the performer as a human being. It can include praise, encouragement, gratitude, and acknowledgment of a task’s difficulty. Phrases like “How are we all doing?” “I know this is a challenge, but I trust you can do it,” and “Your well-being is one of my top priorities” all fit into this category.

Meaning-making language” explains why a task is important. This involves linking the organization’s purpose or mission to listeners’ goals. Often, meaning-making language includes the use of stories—about people who’ve worked hard or succeeded in the company, or about how the work has made a real difference in the lives of customers or the community.

So I’m going to try to use this approach to get all of my readers so pumped up that they just have to share this blog post with everyone they know.

One of my goals in writing the blog is to reach as many people as I can, and you can help me with this task by sharing this post with others. To do so, it’s as simple as clicking one of the sharing buttons (email, Facebook, or Twitter) at the end of the post. The whole process should take you less than five seconds.

I know this is a big ask, but I am confident that you are up to the task. I am grateful for the fact that you currently read my blog, and I hope you have found it to be an enjoyable experience. Your  support over the past two and a half years has meant a great deal to me.

By sharing this post with others, you are making a real difference. With the right amount of effort, you can help grow my reader base from 6 or 7 people to perhaps double digits. Think of all the joy that you have gotten out of reading my posts, and imagine that joy spreading around the world.

You can do this, I know you can.

Just hit the share button.

Thank you for your support.

I’ll be checking my stats Monday morning to see how effective my pep talk was.

If this doesn’t work, I might just have to resort to using click-bait headlines again…

P.S. If you want to see one of the all-time great pep talks, here’s one from the movie Hoosiers. It’s got all the elements noted above – a specific game plan, words of praise and gratitude, and playing for a bigger purpose.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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