I vividly remember a time during my high school basketball days when we played a game down at Bishop McNamara. We played a bad first half then went into the locker room. We sat there for a few minutes waiting for the coaches to come in. It was a long few minutes because we knew it wasn’t going to be pretty! We were right. Our head coach came in screaming about how poor our rebounding effort was and how much we were turning over the ball. He even kicked a garbage can across the room, if memory serves.
After the verbal butt-kicking, we came out and played a really good second half, eventually winning the game!
It shouldn’t be too much of a shock that negative half-time speeches have an impact on how teams perform in the second half! Get this:
A recent study from the Journal of Applied Psychology analyzed 304 halftime speeches from 23 high school and college basketball teams.
The results showed that teams generally played better in the second half in games where coaches delivered negative halftime speeches. However, there is a limit to the negativity. Teams tended to play worse after coaches delivered speeches that were too negative.
To judge the halftime speeches, the researchers trained coders to listen to each recording and rate the extent to which the coaches displayed negative emotions (anger, fear, disgust, fear) and positive ones (pleased, inspired, excited, relaxed). Interestingly, the results showed that teams generally scored more after negative halftime speeches, but not after speeches that were too negative.
“We’re talking Bobby Knight–level, when you’re throwing chairs,” Staw said, referencing the famously explosive former coach of the Indiana Hoosiers.
In a follow-up study, the researchers asked participants to listen to recordings of pep speeches and rate how motivated they felt at the end of each one. Similar to the first study, the results showed that participants generally felt more motivated after negative speeches. Why? The researchers suggest that players may redirect their attention and approach after hearing negative speeches. Also, they noted some workplace research showing that people tend to try harder – at least in the short term – when leaders display negative emotions.
Of course, positivity is also an essential quality in any team, and there’s plenty of research showing that organizations benefit when leaders display “positive affects” and foster a generally positive workplace. But Staw pointed out that negativity – when used correctly – can have its place.