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Research Brief: Self-Talk and Leadership Effectiveness

October 20, 2014

Highly accomplished people have a powerful ability to self-regulate their thoughts and behaviors. This translates to being able to set challenging goals and take consistent action to achieve them. An important component of self-regulation is self-talk - the things we say to ourselves when we reflect on past

experiences or think about the future. 

 

Researchers Kross, Bruehlman-Senecal, Park, Mose, Ayduk, and others recently published a fascinating study that explored how specific types of self-talk influences outcomes such as managing stress when reflecting on past situations or anticipating challenges they might face in the future. People who use their own names when they talk to themselves instead of first-person pronouns (I or me) get more perspective or distance on their behavior. As as a result, these individuals recover quicker social stressors (e.g., making a presentation) and are more likely to view future stressful events as less threatening. For example, first-person talk about a future event might consist of “I waited too long to prepare for that presentation to a potential major client” versus “Kevin, you may have waited a while to start, but you always manage to pull off really good presentations for new clients.”

 

The findings of this study can have a significantly positive impact on executive coaches who seek to help clients improve their ability to achieve their goals. By teaching clients how to talk to themselves after a situation they face or in anticipation of a stressful challenge, they can help them achieve greater positive outcomes by either reframing how they view past experiences or anticipate future events that might be challenging.  For example, if a client faces a crucial conversation with her boss shifts her view of the situation from a threat to a challenge based on the way she talks to herself about this, she would be more likely to take specific actions to prepare for such a conversation - thus leading to better outcomes. Conceivably, as coaches we could help our leadership clients identify specific language they can use when they talk to themselves about future events that is more empowering.

 

 

References:

 

Kross, E., Bruehlman-Senecal, E., Park, J., Burson, A., Dougherty, A., Shablack, H., . . . Moser, J. (2014). Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: How you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(2), 304-324. 

  

(c) 2014 Kevin Nourse PhD 

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