Topic: Motivating Language and Employee Performance

Author(s), Title and Publication

Mayfield, J., Mayfield, M., & Kopf, J. (1995). Motivating Language: Exploring Theory with Scale Development. Journal of Business Communication, 32(4), 329-344.


Little research has been conducted to explore the roles that leader’s language plays in strategic communication with members. This study proposed and tested a motivating language scale (MLS). This scale is based on motivating language theory (MLT), which argues that managers’ use of three fundamental speech acts has positive and measurable effects on employee performance and job satisfaction. The three speech acts include: locutionary language (makes meaning, explains the structure, rules, and organization’s culture), perlocutionary language (gives direction and reduces uncertainty), and illocutionary language (being empathetic, shares emotions). MLT assumes that the managerial communication will have the strongest impact on employee outcomes if a leader uses all three speech acts.

The MLS was developed to understand the extent to which leaders use one or all three speech acts in communication with subordinates. The validity of MLS was tested through two surveys. First, the researchers surveyed 50 students taking a management information systems class at a mid-size eastern university to test the reliability of scale items of the three speech acts. The second survey tested whether the three speech acts influenced employee outcomes positively; 151 supervisor-employee paired respondents answered questions regarding subordinates’ perceptions of supervisor’s skill in using motivating language, subordinates’ satisfaction with communication with their supervisors, and supervisors’ perceptions of their subordinates’ communication competence.

Results supported the reliability and validity of the MLS. Findings also showed that ML (three speech acts) has a significant positively relationship with subordinates’ communication satisfaction with supervisors. But no significant relationship was found between ML and communicator competence.

Implications for Practice

Organizations could add motivating language use to manager training programs and use MLS to assess managers’ competence in using such language.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)



Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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