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Dialog 3: When morale is low


An anecdote about Enrico Caruso illustrates the power of self-talk. On one particular opening night, he was waiting in the wings before coming onstage to a packed house. Stagehands standing nearby suddenly started to hear him hissing, "Get out of my way! Get out! Get out!" Whispers about a mental breakdown immediately began circulating.

However, to the intense relief of fans, colleagues, and his agent, the great tenor later explained, "The big me wants to sing and knows it can. But the big me was being stifled by the little me that gets frightened and says I can't. I was simply ordering the little me out of my body."

Experience Shows

Quoting an eminent figure such as General Colin Powell often gives others pause for thought. When Powell proclaims, "Optimism is a force-multiplier," the rest of us take his words to heart. When appropriate, include such references in your dialogs.

Figure 3.3 When Morale is Low.

Although the words are different, this same self-talk technique is used by athletes and those with life-threatening illnesses alike.

What the Experts Say

"Laugh me out of myself," Shakespeare pleaded 500 years ago. Dwelling on the possibility of negative outcomes can't prevent them from occurring. It can only add more stress to already-tense circumstances. Leaders must often serve as cheerleaders—not in a superficial sense, but in ways that provide hope even in the most desperate of circumstances.

"Other-talk" works equally well when leaders need to motivate others to move from low to high spirits. The technique applies to a wide spectrum of causes for low morale, but here, you're giving a pep talk to a popular first-line supervisor whose attitude has considerable impact on the attitudes of others. The problem you're dealing with centers on rumors of a merger and subsequent layoffs.


Essentially, the tactic involves having you Implore and Restore. Now, you're smart enough to know that a single pep talk isn't enough to change attitudes overnight. So, you'll have to wait until you see some concrete evidence of a turnaround before taking the final step: Galore. That's the celebration stage, when you provide positive feedback about successful efforts the person has undertaken. You might even offer more concrete evidence of your appreciation in the form of comp time or a letter of commendation.

Further Considerations

Make it easy for the other person to tell you what's on his mind. Invite his input before superimposing your own on the situation.

Validate feelings rather than dismiss them. This is especially true with someone like Sheldon, whose pessimism is atypical.

When you can, cite obstacles that were overcome by people in much worse circumstances. Doing so diminishes the stranglehold present circumstances tend to have over us.

"I tell myself before a game that I'm Paul Bunyan. I wake up in the hotel room in the morning and say to myself, 'Paul, we're going to have ourselves a game this afternoon. We are going to remove the stuffings from people.' I can actually feel myself inflate."

What the Experts Say

We've noted that self-talk and other-talk are used by leaders and athletes alike. Listen to the words of former Lion defensive tackle Alex Karras, and then think about ways you can use self-talk or other-talk for pumping-up purposes.

Ask Yourself

  • How are my moods affecting those around me?
  • Have I helped others face their fears?
  • Have I developed alternative plans for worst-case scenarios such as job loss?
  • What evidence can I find that optimism makes a difference?
  • What's a morale-builder for me?
  • Have I tried seeing if it will work with my colleague?
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