Priming Expectations


A Powerful Leadership Tool: Priming with Future Positive Expectations

The powerful leadership skill of Priming Expectations increases offensive-zone focus and activates team performance!

The Concept

What we expect tends to happen more!

What our team holds in their “Future-Positive Focus,” they move toward!

People live up to the positive expectations of their coaches, or of other people with high influence in their lives. In my hockey journey I can remember coaches who believed in me more than I believed in myself. Those positive expectations generated very positive outcomes.

I have also noticed that priming expectations happens most often through intentional conversations with formal and informal leaders/influencers on teams. My NHL Agent, Herb Pinder, believed that 4 to 6 months after a coaching change in the NHL, the players on the team tended to take on the mindset, the energy, and the personality of that new coach.

I heard a surprising story recently of an NHL trade. As he had normally done throughout his career, the newly arrived player began talking about winning the Stanley Cup and how amazing this was going to be. Many of his new teammates approached him and explained that because of their particular superstitions, they preferred not to have this conversation or even talk about the Cup. The new player, who had been traded from a team where he had won a Cup, asked his superstitious teammates, “How can you win something that you won’t talk about?”

Our culture’s words are critical because they help focus our thinking. The neural networks devoted to language inform our actions and behaviours that then become our habits, and eventually the results of our team. Remember our new articulation during our last blog/e-newsletter that “CULTURE turns on Language?”The language (including voice-intonation, body language, facial expression, etc.) of our team culture is the prime tool to guide the shared expectations of our people.

One of The Oxford Dictionary definitions of Expectation as “a belief that someone will or should achieve something. ‘Students had high expectations for their future.’" Wikipedia describes Priming as a technique whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention.

Whether we recognize it or not, we are always positively or negatively priming ourselves and the people around us.

In my opinion, Robert Cialdini’s book The 6 Principles of Influence relates to the priming process. Cialdini believes that the first principle of Influence is Reciprocity (you’ll scratch my back if I scratch yours). He identifies an important key to actually using this principle. If, for example we have decided to give a gift to each of the participants at a conference, Cialdini recommends that to make the most of the principle of reciprocity…give first.

In other words, don’t wait until the end of the conference to deliver the gift; Prime people’s positive focus at the conference by placing the gift in their room or on their seat so they receive the gift as they arrive. This activates the principle of reciprocity and, incidentally, also begins the priming process. People may not reciprocate with an actual gift but invoking