The language of pep talks | An evidence-based activity

Pep talk .jpg

I’m often asked by my clients to help their managers ‘motivate’ their teams more effectively. I usually excuse myself from supporting this request by suggesting that it’s out of my scope so I was naturally intrigued by this HBR article on some recent research on the language of motivation, perhaps bringing it into the ambit of ELT. Here’s a quick activity I came up with to help learners explore this research.

Materials & preparation 

  • It may be a good idea for the T to read the article, The Science of Pep Talks.
  • You’ll need to copy and cut up the jumbled functions.
  • You’ll also need copies of the speech from the article.

Procedure 

    • Pre-teach pep talk if necessary (you could also use an excerpt from an American movie – YouTube has loads – unfortunately, I couldn’t find any without inappropriate language).
    • Draw some speech bubbles on the board and ask learners to think back to the last pep talk they received from a manager or leader at work. What sorts of things did this person say? Do they give pep talks to their team members? What do they include in these messages?
    • Introduce learners to the three elements of pep talks: direction giving or uncertainty-reducing language, empathetic language and meaning-making language which Milton and Jacqueline Mayfield discovered were shared across motivating messages from different domains such as sports and sales.
    • Distribute the jumbled functions and ask learners to put them in these three categories.
  • Get learners to work in pairs or groups to come up with expressions for these functions which make sense to them within the context of their jobs.
  • Ask learners to discuss which of the three would be most difficult to incorporate into a motivating message  (The research suggests it’s meaning-making, for example, imagine how challenging this might be for a fast-food outlet manager trying to motivate his part-time employees to perform better).
  • Signpost the following speech and explain that it was spoken by Erica Galos Alioto, a sales leader at the popular social media company, Yelp. Sections of this speech have a number after them – ask learners to review these sections and decide which of the four techniques Alioto uses to motivate her team.

Let me just say how impressed I am with this group … Thank you for being the top office in Yelp right now, and for welcoming me with such incredible energy.

Right now the New York office is leading the company with 104% of quota, and there are two days left in the month. That’s absolutely insane.… Colleen is at $80,000. I tried to say hello to her yesterday, but she was on the phone, pitching like a madwoman, so I couldn’t ….1

Everybody knows how amazing the last day of the month is in the New York office. But LDOM isn’t really about the day of the month. It’s about how we approach that day. There’s something about that particular day that makes us come in with the ridiculous amount of grit and determination, the ability to make the unthinkable happen,2 the energy to achieve just about anything so that no matter where we are in relation to quota, we’re going to win. All those people who’ve been telling us no all month long—we’re going to turn that around and get a yes….3

Hopefully everybody has a pen and paper. I want you all to take a moment and write down what success looks like for you today. It may be how many business owners you talked to, or how many hearts and minds you won.… Write it down.4

When you woke up this morning, what was your mentality? Sometimes we get into negative self-talk. Sometimes it may sound like this: “Why is Jon at target today? He must have a really great territory.” Sometimes we believe if somebody is achieving something that we’re not, it must be because the other person has some advantage.5

Guess what? We also have plenty of examples of what people think of as a bad territory, and we put somebody new on it, and they go out and absolutely crush it.

If there’s anything negative in your thinking, I encourage you to turn that thinking on its head. Instead of looking at the differences between you and somebody else with a lot of success, look for similarities.6

We’ve got two days to make it happen. Everything you do today, every action you take to make that successful outcome, every time you pitch, every business owner you talk to, every time you encourage a teammate to be better, every time you win the heart and mind of a business owner, you’re not only helping yourself—you’re helping your team, you’re helping your office, you’re helping your company, and you’re helping Yelp get where it wants to be.7

Source: McGinn, D. The Science of Pep Talks. HBR Jul-Aug 2017

Here’s the answer key:

1: Empathetic language – Praising the group and individual contributions 
2: Meaning-making language – Portraying LDOM as a significant event and connecting the reps’ actions to a larger goal 
3: Empathetic language – Acknowledging that some people are lagging, but emphasizing their self-efficacy and resilience 
4: Direction giving or uncertainty reducing language – Offering specific guidance on how to approach the day’s task 
5: Empathetic language – Recognizing employees’ tendency to get discouraged, rather than be emboldened, by colleagues’ success 
6: Direction giving or uncertainty reducing language – Instructing reps to avoid negativity 
7: Meaning-making language – Connecting today’s work to the company’s larger goal.

  • Ask learners to reflect on their own leaders’ pep talks; do they have these three elements? What about their own pep talks?
  • Learners then work in groups to create notes on a pep talk for their team members which incorporates these three techniques. Ask them to use Alioto’s speech as a guide but create something more concise, which they can then pitch to their peers.
  • You may want to combine this with a session that explores techniques for using the voice effectively.

Image attribution: Pep talk by Kenneth Moore | Flickr |CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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This is crap | An intercultural competence activity

This activity is based on an article by Erin Meyer titled How to say “this is crap” in different cultures. Meyer recycles some material from an old Internet meme about British-Dutch cultural differences. Nevertheless, it demonstrates differences in how people convey feedback linguistically quite well.

intercultural feedback

Image attribution: Meeting by Howard Jefferson | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0

Objective 

Raise awareness of the cultural gap caused by direct vs. indirect approaches to giving feedback  and allow learners an opportunity to discuss ways of mitigating risks arising from these differences

Materials

Make copies of and cut up the table titled ‘Anglo-Dutch Translation Guide’ in this article. You don’t need to use the entire table as participants might take too long to unjumble it. Select four rows that your learners might find interesting.

Procedure

  • Board the phrase “this is absolute crap” and ask participants if they would ever use this phrase while giving feedback to a colleague about some work they’ve done. Ask them to discuss the reasons for their response with a partner.
  • As you take whole class feedback, you’ll find some participants articulating a softer response such as “this is sort of what I was looking for”. Board these.
  • Derive that some cultures are more explicit or direct in communicating feedback.
    • Upgraders: These direct cultures tend to use upgraders such as absolutely, strongly, or totally before negative feedback to strengthen it such as “This is absolutely inappropriate”. In these cultures, “this is absolute crap” may be perceived as acceptable.
  • Point out that other cultures are more implicit or indirect as perhaps with the utterances shared by the participants for softening the message.
    • Downgraders: These indirect cultures tend to use downgraders such as kind of, sort of, a little, a bit, maybe and slightly to soften the blow. They might also use a type of downgrader called an understatement such as “We are not quite there yet”.
  • Ask participants to categorize some national cultures based on whether they are relatively direct or indirect (bear in mind that indirect cultures like India often perceive themselves as more or less direct).
  • Board participants’ suggestions and circle the UK & the Netherlands.
  • Signpost the cutouts and state that the cutouts belong under three headers: What the British say, What the British mean, and What the Dutch understand. Ask participants to work in groups to put them in the right categories.
  • Get participants to identify the gap between what is being said/meant and what is understood and the problems this might create.

Action planning

  • Ask participants to think about the kind of culture they come from – indirect/direct – and consider their own personal orientation to giving feedback. Do they use upgraders or downgraders?
  • Have them imagine a situation where they are working with someone who has a different preference to feedback than them, what could they do to ensure that they are not misunderstood or don’t end up damaging the business relationship.

Reference: Meyer, E., How To Say “This Is Crap” In Different Cultures in the Harvard Business Review, Feb 2014.

Repeat again | An evidence-based matrix activity

A matrix activity or game is an instructional strategy for getting learners to categorize, come up with solutions, or discuss points presented within a grid. This particular activity is based on research presented in the ‘Defend your research’ section of the Harvard Business Review.

communication.png

Image attribution: Phone by HanZhan | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0


Objective 

Redundancies (such as the one in this activity’s name) are seen as a sign of a poor communicator but a study in this area reveals that there may be a strategic purpose behind repeating yourself. The activity challenges learners to question popular perceptions about redundant communication and reflect on how they assign tasks to their team members.

Pre-work 

It might be a good idea for the T to read this HBR article – Defend Your Research: Effective Managers Say the Same Thing Twice (or More)

Materials 

You’ll need copies of the activity handout for each participant.

Procedure

  • Lead in to the activity by asking participants to discuss in pairs how they go about assigning a task to a team member. You may want to give them an example such as “You need your team member to create a report for you” – how will you go about assigning this task?

Part A

  • Distribute the activity handout and ask participants to read the two caselets individually and fill the communication matrix. You may need to signpost the example and demonstrate that they need to do two things. First, put ticks and crosses based on which modes of communication they’d use in that situation. Second, rank their ticks based on what they’d do first, second, third, etc. Point out that they don’t need to necessarily have more than one tick.

Part B

  • Ask participants compare their matrices in pairs and discuss the rationale behind the modes they’ve selected.

Part C

  • Ask participants to now read the summary of the research provided in the handout. They should compare their own ideas to the findings of the study.

Part D 

  • Get participants to discuss some reflection questions on whether they agree with the study and why managers might be increasingly using redundant communication.

Action planning

You may want to conclude the exercise by getting participants to do some action planning. In light of this research, are there any changes they would want to make to their approach to assigning work?

Reference: Neely, T. & Leonardi, P.M., Defend your Research: Effective Managers Say the Same Thing Twice (or More) in the Harvard Business Review, May 2011.

Apple | An evidence-based jolt

A jolt is an engaging learning activity that lasts for a brief period of time and illustrates one or more important learning points …  A typical jolt does not teach a skill. Instead, it helps you experience an important principle in action and provides you an “aha” moment … They capture your attention by startling you … During the activity, jolts encourage you to think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. After the activity, during the discussion, jolts encourage you to share your insights with other participants and to discover that different people have different perspectives.

Thiagi

I design a lot of activities using research published in the Harvard Business Review. There’s a regular feature called “Defend your research” which always inspires me to create a task, a discussion activity or in this case a jolt. Over the next couple of months, I’m going to try to share a few evidence-based activities on this blog.

Apple

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Objective

This activity encourages metacognition and gets Ss to think about how their memory is not infallible and what that might mean for their performance or behaviour at work.

Pre-work

It might be a good idea for the T to read this HBR article – Defend your research: We can’t recall logos we see everyday.

Materials 

Paper to draw on; the Apple logo on a slide or a printout; crayons and colouring pencils are optional

Procedure

  • Take a quick poll to see if the Ss use any Apple products. Ask them work in triads to discuss which products they use, their experience overall with Apple and what they think of the brand.
  • Ask Ss to rate on a scale of 1 to 10, how familiar they are with the Apple brand (where 10 means extremely familiar). Have them write this number down.
  • Ask Ss to then rate how familiar they are with the Apple logo. (To make this interesting, ask them to draw a scale and then mark the two ratings on it).
  • Now ask Ss to draw the Apple logo. They can’t look at their phones, look it up on their phones and look in their bags. They must draw it from memory.
  • Once they’ve finished drawing, have them to compare their drawings with their neighbour. Then show them the actual logo and ask them to evaluate how near or far their drawings are from it. They should consider:
    • The shape of the apple
    • Where and how the bite mark is drawn.
    • Where and how the leaf is drawn
  • Get the Ss to take another look at the rating they gave themselves – how well do you know the Apple logo? Would they change the rating in light of this experience? What would they change it to?
  • Ss work in triads to discuss why most of them were over-confident about knowing the Apple logo.
  • Take whole class feedback and introduce the research:

“… there’s a lot of research proving we have a good memory for visual information. But we’re also dealing with attentional saturation. It would be overwhelming … to mentally record everything we see. So subconsciously we let some things fall away.”

The researchers thought that they would get different results with the Apple logo because it’s so ubiquitous. Of their 85 subjects …

“… only one got every part of the logo right, and just seven could draw it with three or fewer errors. And when we put the actual Apple logo in a line-up with seven altered versions, only 47% of people could identify it. We all know it looks like the fruit, but most of us don’t pay attention to the bite or the leaf. And that’s natural. We don’t burden ourselves with information we don’t think we’ll need to use.”

This fact most people are confident about drawing the logo is called “the availability heuristic: “I’ve seen this many times, so I should remember it.”

The researchers ran a similar experiment where office goers were asked to identify the location of the nearest fire extinguisher. Most got it wrong.

“In the study on fire extinguishers we also found evidence that people didn’t recall the location of the one nearest to them because they thought they knew where it should be—a phenomenon called gist memory. Several remarked that it was probably near the elevator and were surprised it wasn’t. We saw the same kind of thinking in the logo experiments. Many students assumed that if they were drawing a leaf, they should also draw a stem. In my own mind, the bite had teeth marks because no real bite is smooth. So our memories are contaminated by all the knowledge we’ve accumulated.”

  • Ask Ss to review this research and discuss its implications in the context of their own jobs. The researchers point to the following connection “Sometimes the information on the periphery is what leads us to the greatest insights, so
    we might want to fight our tendency to filter, our inattention, and our gist memory.”
  • The researchers suggest that failure and a greater understanding of metacognition – how our minds work- can help us combat these effects.

This activity worked well with my learners although the discussion was more about mindfulness in general rather than metacognition at work. I’d love to hear from you if you happen to run it in your classroom.

References

  • Castel, A. (2015) Defend your research: We can’t recall logos we see everyday in Harvard Business Review June 2015, pp.32-33.

Whatsapped surveys | A structured sharing activity

Everyone and their uncle seem to be on Whatsapp these days and I’ve been attempting to use it for activities.  One of the advantages of Whatsapp is that it sends and loads images really quickly, even on networks with poor connectivity. Here’s a warmer/speaking activity using images shared on Whatsapp.

HBR survey

Materials

You will need survey results like this one from the Harvard Business Review. Your Ss will need smartphones. Onscreen timer.

Preparation

You will need to take a picture of survey results with your phone. I prefer to use the Harvard Business Review’s HBR Survey which is a regular feature in their print edition but you could use any survey from a newspaper or magazine. You’ll need to have created a Whataspp group for your class. But, you might not have to because I find Ss usually create their own groups so could just send the image to one person and have them share it with the Whatsapp group.

Procedure

  • Share the image of the survey results in the class Whatsapp group.
  • Pre-teach any blocking words (or don’t depending on which school of thought you belong to).
  • Ask Ss to individually make predictions about the results for the same parameters in their own class e.g., what percentage of their peers would strongly agree with the statement “I would prefer to be told bluntly if I’ve done poor work”.  Ask them to record these predictions in their notebooks.
  • Bring up the onscreen timer and set the countdown timer based on how many Ss you have.
  • Ask Ss to poll their peers and find out their response to this survey question. Have them record these responses as a tally under agree, disagree etc.
  • If someone says “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree”, they should find out why.
  • Call time and divide Ss into small groups. Ask them to analyse the results and discuss the reasons shared by their peers.
  • Debrief the activity by eliciting reasons for differing responses. Draw out the cultural dimension and how it might affect the way people would want to receive feedback and criticism.