Fixing Motivation Mistakes: Emotional OverDrive

Written by Dr. U   

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With panting breaths, eyes bulging, and voice cracking, Phil Davison from Minerva, Ohio hollered his way through what surely has become the most viewed County Treasurer party nomination speech in history.

His impassioned address exploded into a YouTube and media sensation. People might have a laugh at Davison’s delivery, but there’s a motivation lesson for managers too. When you feel very strongly about something and you’re trying to persuade or motivate your team, how much passion should you show?

Too little—you lose impact and fail to inspire. Too much—you disconnect from your people, who can’t relate to your emotional overdose.

Throughout most of his speech, Davison is on the “too much” side of the spectrum.

The video is under six minutes long, but if you want to watch for only a couple minutes, go to about 1:15, where Davison says he “will not apologize for my tone tonight!” and then gives us LOTS of tone.

Davison failed to earn his party’s nomination, perhaps due to the motivation mistake of emotional overdrive. What should you do instead?

The answer is to create emotional contagion. To understand how to do that, think of three zones along a range of demonstrated emotion from low to high.

Zone #1: Emotional UnderDrive – “Where’s the feeling?”
Here you’re showing too little emotion to connect others to the passion you feel for the cause, issue, initiative, principle, or whatever you’re focusing on.

Your people can’t relate, and they can’t buy in, because they don’t see it in you. This makes me think of the movie The Cooler, in which casino managers use the world’s most boring guy (played by William Macy) to go sit at the table where someone is on a gambling hot streak. Macy is so bereft of emotion, his mere presence drains the liveliness (and luck) out of others.

Zone #2: Emotional Contagion – “I feel that too!”
In this zone, you’re showing enough passion that you enroll people in the emotion, and give it a chance to take hold inside them.

In Zone #2, your people can understand. They can relate. They can see themselves in the emotion you express. You’re helping them feel it too, and triggering the contagious quality that emotions have when they are well demonstrated.

Sometimes it’s helpful to build toward that more demonstrative emotional state, and enable people to enroll themselves in the emotional progression. See for example Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Zone #3: Emotional OverDrive – “I don’t feel that!”
In this zone, your demonstrated emotion is so disproportionate to your audience’s perception, that you don’t cause emotional contagion. In fact, you trigger other counter-emotions, e.g., scorn, ridicule, pity.

Therefore, in both Zones #1 and #3, you disconnect emotionally from your team, group or audience.

But in Zone #2, you connect your emotional state to theirs and create emotional resonance in their inner feeling state, which enables them to join in and feel it and show it too.

Action Tool:
So when you feel very strongly about something and you’re trying to get it across to motivate and inspire your team, get into Zone #2.

Get over the Zone #1 threshold from emotional deprivation into emotional contagion, but stop short of triggering the disconnected counter-emotions that come in Zone #3.

You can track and adjust whether you’re in Zone #2 by reading the reactions from your team. Keep an eye on how your people respond. Are they starting to demonstrate with their expressions and responses a corresponding emotional state? Read their reactions and adjust your demonstrated emotion accordingly.

FYI, here’s another brief video in which Davison comments AFTER his speech became so widely seen.

Speaking of comments, what are yours? We’d love to know what you think. Have you seen instances of managers’ emotions gone wild? Or instances in which they’ve done very well in showing their passion in a way that had positive impact? Any other observations? Add a comment below!

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