How to be an energiser

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Published by
Jan Hills
May 21, 2018

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We have all been in groups which lack energy. The experience is sapping. Equally we have been part of a group where the energy is high. Both situations seem to be contagious and the research suggests the leader is the most contagious person in the group as far as energy is concerned. 

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Rob Cross and colleagues at the University of Virginia have studied work performance and organisational networks and have found that people who are experienced as energisers are also high performers (as measured by their annual performance ratings).

Their research found energisers are more likely to have their ideas considered and put into action. They motivate others to collaborate better within an organisation and with clients and this leads to more client work. People engage more fully with an energiser, giving them their undivided attention, and are happy to give discretionary time to an energiser’s ideas or projects.

Energisers also attract the commitment of other high performers: people deliberately position themselves to work for them. And people who are closely connected to an energiser are also better performers. So, a single energiser creates a cluster of other energisers around them quite naturally.

Interestingly, Cross and his colleagues also found that energisers affect what individuals and networks learn over time. People rely on their networks for information to get their work done, and they are much more likely to seek information and learn from energisers than from de-energisers. The flip side of this is that the expertise of de-energisers is underused, no matter how relevant it might be.

The research indicates energy is not just about the observable behaviour between people in isolation. It also depends on the characteristics of the individuals involved and the relationship between them. In similar discussions, a person may be energised by the purpose of someone known for their integrity but de-energised by another person who is inconsistent or sends conflicting signals.

These 5 types of conversation create energy

1. Conversations with purpose

People are energised by conversations when a clear, shared purpose is created, such as when people define why they will pursue certain goals or a certain project, the way the team will work, and how any difficulties will be handled. Energy is dissipated by conversations about current or past problems.

The purpose needs to be well-defined and the direction to achieve it must be clear. Conversations about unrealistic projects or where goals are unclear are draining.

What people are indicating here is a concern about certainty in the CORE model. A clear purpose and steps to achieve it provides certainty for people and a good dose of dopamine in the brain. A person’s ability to create a clear purpose is a consistent differentiator between energisers and de-energisers. Energisers see realistic possibilities; de-energisers see roadblocks and obstacles.

2. Conversations where a contribution is made

People are energised by interactions in which they can make a meaningful contribution. Energisers create these kinds of conversations, getting others involved in finding a solution no matter how expert they themselves are.

De-energisers either don’t create the space for others to contribute, or signal that they don’t value their contribution.

Useful contributions need to be acknowledged and ineffective ones handled in a way that doesn’t threaten the person’s sense of options and reputation as described in the CORE model. This can be a problem for people with a great deal of expertise who can find it hard to hold back and allow others to contribute.

Asking others opinion and ideas before voicing your own is a good way of getting contributions and with then energy and buy-in.

3. Conversations where there’s emotional engagement

People are energised when they’re emotionally engaged. Body language plays an important part in this: if people display a lack of attention (they’re constantly checking their phone or attempting to do more than one thing at a time) it sends signals that dissipate energy.

Equally subtle cues can increase energy, such as being animated and giving undivided attention. Full engagement like this can be tiring, though, so smart energisers are also good at using humour and mental breaks to help others stay energised.

4. Conversations about progress

People are energised when they get recognition for progress towards their goals. Research has found that energisers are goal-driven but also open and flexible about how they attain those goals.

In contrast, de-energisers typically have a preconceived plan of how to get to the goal that they impose on everyone else. We see this happen with leaders who are overloaded with problems, who come into meetings with a “fix it” mentality and think they’re putting out a fire. What they miss is the debilitating effect on energy that their own favoured solutions can have.

De-energisers can also wipe out a sense of progress by being too unfocused: by constantly making changes so that no one understands which direction to take. People feel more certain when they know what steps they need to take and the options they have (both activate the brain’s reward networks).

5. Conversations that generate positive emotions

People are energised by positive emotions like hope and excitement. Hope, for instance, reflects the fact that people believe that the objective is worthwhile and can be attained; they get excited about the possibilities and stop looking for the pitfalls.

Energisers have two characteristics that influence people’s willingness to hope. They are direct and straightforward in how they speak, even when the message is challenging, and they display integrity: there’s no mismatch between their words and their actions. De-energisers diminish hope: energy is depleted when the leader does not meet their commitments.

What is your style?

Are you more often an energiser or a de-energiser? Whichever there will be times when you are the opposite. Think about what triggers you to adopt the behaviours typical of a de-energizer and set an intension to use more behaviours which characterise energizers.

Which one of the 5 conversational styles will give you the greatest positive shift?

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