If you know anything about creative writers, you may be aware that many have a holy terror of talking about their work before it’s finished and ready for publication. Some might put this down to superstition, but it turns out that there’s actually a good reason, and it applies to you and your sales goals, too.

Sure, sales reps and managers have to talk about goals as part of the goal-setting process, and the former’s quotas can’t be a secret from the latter. But otherwise, sales pros may want to keep what they aim to do close to their chest, according to the findings of a very interesting behavioral study.

The study was done by a team led by New York University psych professor Peter Gollwitzer. The researchers carried out four experiments in which volunteers were directed to form various good intentions relating to their careers. Then, some of the participants were asked to tell others about these intentions, while others were made to believe they could keep their intentions for themselves alone.

Talk, talk, talk
Who actually carried out their intentions? Turns out, those who didn’t talk about them were much better at acting on them than those who did. In one of the experiments, for instance, the former group reported achieving its goals 41% more regularly than the latter.

The researchers laid the difference to a quirk of brain function known to psychologists as “self-completion” — the human tendency to create and display symbols of an ideal self.

When we talk about our goals with others, part of what we’re doing is seeking to create an impression of ourselves as achievers of these goals. And once we’ve done that, we’re less motivated to actually do the achieving. In other words, we replace action with talk.

Countervailing factors
Does this mean that it’s never a good idea to state a goal publicly?

Probably not. There’s also a body of research demonstrating that when people go public with their goals in front of a target audience, they tend to commit to them in a way that doesn’t occur when the goals are private. A sense of accountability to that audience comes into play. Still other research shows that a public statement of intentions brings to bear the individual’s own sense of self as someone who manifests the desired behavior.

Sales pros may want to balance all these factors in deciding how freely, or otherwise, they’re going to share their goals with colleagues, family and friends. But the Gollwitzer research indicates, at the very least, that you need to be careful not to substitute a public display of intention for the actual achievement of the goal.

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