There is a reason that so many books and articles are dedicated to motivating others. Working in management or human resources, you quickly learn that people are motivated by varying factors, and what motivates them can change depending on the context. Whether your goal is to get people on board for a training session or to spark motivation for a new long-term company objective, part of the challenge is in identifying what particular language will ignite motivation within any given individual or group!
Motivation is multi-faceted, and, to be most effective, you must be too. Let’s explore four highly practical motivational dimensions at play in the workplace. When you learn to assess where someone stands in these areas and then tailor your communication in a way that best speaks to their preferred motivational traits, you’ll be much more successful in accomplishing your goals.
The motivational traits we’ll explore here are:
- Internal and External
- Away From and Toward
- Options and Procedures
- Sameness and Difference
Internal and External
Internally motivated individuals are driven by their internal criteria, while external criteria drive externally motivated people. How can you tell the difference between these two motivational preferences? When making decisions, internally motivated people will likely gather information and then decide based on what they think will yield the best results (i.e., “That’s just their opinion, my experience tells me that the best course of action is…”). When externally motivated, a person will seek out an expert opinion or that of other trusted sources, and they tend to lean in the direction of deciding based on general consensus (i.e., “Nine out of ten doctors recommend…”). Watch and listen for clues that will tell you which motivational tendency a person on your team exhibits, and then invest the energy into tailoring your communication to their motivational preference. For example, consider granting internally motivated people the power to make their own decisions. You may say to them something like, “Regardless of what others think, you are the only one who can decide for yourself…”. For externally motivated people, give examples of popular opinion and what most others prefer.
Away From and Toward
Away from and toward motivations are all about someone’s perspective. Are they focused on what they want to prevent, eliminate, or avoid? Or are they looking toward what they can accomplish, gain, and achieve? It’s important to remember that these motivators always depend on context. To some degree, we all use all of these motivational preferences at one point or another. Identifying when a person exhibits one motivational trait more than another can help you determine what’s most relevant to them and why. Once you know this, you can then adjust your language to be most persuasive and influential.
Options and Procedures
People have an innate preference for options vs. procedures. Options-oriented people love choice and variety and prefer to look at the possibilities in front of them. Procedures-focused people prefer step-by-step processes and tend to focus on the “right way” to do things rather than the variety of different ways something could be accomplished. Options people may lack follow-through because they can get distracted by the many different choices and ways to do things. In contrast, procedural people may miss out on the opportunities that come with exploring alternatives and changing up their routines.
To motivate a person who prefers options, get them to brainstorm all of the different ways they can approach a problem or accomplish a task. To spark interest in a person who prefers procedures, start with talking about the first step (or series of steps).
Sameness and Difference
Some people prefer to change, and some people prefer stability. What’s surprising about this obvious observation is that these preferences shape a person’s motivation. People oriented toward sameness will be adept at finding similarities and commonalities, and they typically find comfort in static routines. Someone who is more difference-oriented is attuned to spot differences. They may also become easily bored. Adding change to their routine will likely motivate and re-engage them. You can use this knowledge to be more effective at engaging individuals within your teams – for example, choose sameness-oriented individuals to identify consistencies across reports, proposals, etc., while giving quality control roles to difference–oriented people who will spot any minute irregularities.
Of course, each of us displays a unique combination of these motivational factors, which varies based on contexts such as the circumstances, the environment, and the people we’re interacting with. Rather than exhibiting a strict dichotomy that remains stable indefinitely, people will change, grow, and fluctuate over time. So, it is essential to pay attention to those you work with to identify their preferences in the present moment and then adjust your communication accordingly to engage and motivate them optimally.
What happens when you understand where a person is coming from motivationally and mirror that back to them? You might be quite surprised at the enthusiasm and commitment that you cultivate when you do this. It is like you are suddenly speaking the person’s language when previously what you’ve said has fallen on deaf ears.
While there are always many competing factors in motivating someone, the secret to success is quite simple. You can quickly understand what someone needs to hear or how they need to be approached to spark their fire. One of the best things you can do to improve this skill and your motivational efforts, in general, is to reassess people to ascertain where their motivational preferences fall. People are unique and dynamic, and their motivational patterns will become more and more evident as you practice paying attention to them over time.