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Talk Makes People Do Awful Things
January 2011

No, not talk you listen to on the radio or TV. Or what you read online, or in the newspapers. The worst that can cause you to do is change stations, or hit unsubscribe. Or maybe throw the remote in disgust when your team loses, or you see Lady Gaga.

The most damaging, behavior-influencing talk is the internal dialogue you have with yourself, in your head, between your ears.

The plain truth is that the Tucson shooter was deranged. End of explanation. Political talk had zero influence.

I wish people were spending as much time looking at the adverse effect of their own internal dialogue. Two types of internal dialogue cause particularly destructive behavior.

The first is directed at ourselves, and occurs when we continually put ourselves down. I’m no good. I’m always
screwing up. There I go again, making another mistake. I’m not respected. I can’t do anything right.

When your head is filled with this kind of negative talk, you’re not going to do your best work, present your best positive, confident image, and you won’t be as happy as you should be.

If you’ve got positive thoughts rattling around in your head, you’re going to perform better than with negative thoughts.
Like so many simple ideas, this one is exceedingly hard to put into practice. It requires a different mindset, and a
prodigious amount of self-discipline.

The other kind of destructive dialogue involves negative thoughts about others. The VP of Marketing is a jerk. My boss
is clueless. My employees are lazy. Or dishonest. Or nothing but trouble.

If this dialogue plays most of the time, it will affect your behavior toward them, which will affect their behavior. As much as we try to be nice, that internal dialogue will produce behavior that sends subtle (or maybe not so subtle) signals that we just don’t like, trust, or respect the other person.

That will detract from performance and teamwork.

Maybe you don’t do either kind of negative talk. But I’ll bet that people in your workplace do. And if so, your job as a
leader is to get them out of these destructive habits.

The Pygmalion Effect (the idea that people perform up to, or down to, my expectations) lives. The self-fulfilling prophecy
thrives. And it’s all because of the internal dialogue running 24/7.

I discussed this recently with a colleague, explaining how many people don’t believe that positive thoughts will generate
positive results.

He replied, “Why not? They’re probably living examples of how negative thoughts generate negative results. It should be obvious that it works the other way, too.”

Should be obvious, but often isn’t.

Remember, the dialogue in your head is nonstop. That’s why it’s a powerful influence on behavior. Make the internal dialogue positive. Help your direct reports do the same.

Until next edition, keep leading the way!

Copyright (C) 2011 by Terry Wall