DIFFERENT things motivate different people in different ways. The more we understand the nature of how someone is motivated, the easier it is for us to adjust our communication to match up with their natural motivational tendencies. The key is to pay attention to their language because it contains elusive clues to their underlying motivational traits.
What are motivational traits? Everyone has a number of underlying factors that motivate them. Once you understand this key distinction, you can then adjust your communication approach to align with these traits, empowering you to be more persuasive with a variety of people. For example, knowing that your staff members, Michael and Afua, are motivated by high financial compensation is important. Moreover, the details of their motivational traits can help you make the most of this knowledge.
Understanding Away from and Toward Motivation
One motivational trait you can quickly understand and adjust to is the direction of motivation. Some people are motivated by “away from,” that is, what they can avoid, prevent, or eliminate. In other words, they are motivated to move away from what they don’t want to have happen in their lives. In comparison, other people are motivated by moving “toward” things that they want to achieve, accomplish, or attain.
For example, Michael and Afua both value money, and they both negotiate strongly for more compensation in performance reviews. But why? Are they moving away from or toward something money offers them? You can find out by asking them questions and listening to their language.
When you talk to Michael and ask him what is important about money, he reveals that he is stressed about how he will fare financially after retirement. He tells you that he doesn’t want to struggle in retirement like his parents. Michael is moving away from a retirement reality he fears. When you talk to Afua, she reveals that she wants a higher salary so that she can more easily afford the vacation rental she has always wanted. Afua is moving toward her ideal vacation.
Both Michael and Afua can be motivated with financial incentives, and they can also be motivated by framing a discussion about that incentive in the context of what they are moving away from or toward. Money is just a means that gets people closer to achieving what they value, after all.
Say you want to motivate both Michael and Afua to agree to put in additional discretionary work time over the weekend to meet a fast-approaching deadline on a major project. For Michael, you might suggest that the bonus he would receive from doing this extra work could be invested in a fund to build up his retirement nest egg so that he can avoid worrying about financial struggles when he retires.
With this knowledge about Afua, you may realize that she is motivated by money as it relates to the prospect of taking more luxurious vacations. For her, you could suggest that the bonus she makes could be put toward spoiling herself and booking her dream vacation rental.
There are many other ways to leverage your understanding of the direction of motivation, and as you begin to recognize people’s motivation, you will think of interesting ways to appeal to their specific orientation.
Understanding Options and Procedures Motivation
Another key motivational trait is whether someone is oriented to options or procedures. Someone who is options-oriented is motivated by possibilities, choice, and change. Someone who is procedures-oriented is motivated by pattern, process, and the “right” way to do something. You have likely found that it has been easier to motivate people who share your preference for options or procedures. It is necessary to have people of both orientations in your organization, and both are found in about equal numbers in the workforce.
To identify people who are options-oriented, look for those who like to create, design, and develop. Those with this motivational tendency enjoy figuring things out as they go, rather than make a detailed plan. They want to break the rules and come up with something unique. However, they are also likely to suffer from a lack of follow-through and may get distracted easily.
On the other hand, those who are procedures-oriented will want to find the “right” way to do something and then avoid changing the process that brought about the “right” end result. They want to plan carefully, and they have an incredible ability to follow through on a process or a whole project to completion. They care about “how” and can be so focused on process and details that they may miss the bigger picture or alternative ways of accomplishing goals.
It is best to think of motivational traits as a spectrum rather than a definite label that you can apply to a person. All people fluctuate in these (and other) motivational traits depending on a number of factors. Some people, roughly 20%, will appear to be a combination of being motivated by both options and procedures. Determining which motivational styles an individual is currently demonstrating will allow you to better match them, resulting in an increased ability to motivate them.
Procedures-oriented people will be more responsive to phrases such as:
- What do you think are the best steps to take to accomplish this?
- Where should we start?
- What is our plan from there?
Options-motivated people will be more responsive to phrases such as:
- Let’s brainstorm our options for accomplishing this?
- Which of these choices would you prefer?
- How many ways can we approach this?
Applying Motivational Tools
Options/procedures and away from/toward motivational traits are rich tools to help you identify the best language patterns to use with different people as you seek to motivate them. Note, there are even more motivational traits for you to explore, including internal/external and sameness/difference. As with all knowledge that enables you to be highly persuasive, you have a responsibility to apply this information ethically and with utmost integrity. Exploring and applying your understanding of any of these traits will equip you to be more masterful as you Ignite a Shift.
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Stephen McGarvey is an international speaker, an expert on persuasion and influence, and the founder of a boutique consulting firm, Solutions In Mind. He assists corporations and audiences around the world in solving difficult communications problems by guiding them on an engaging, fast-paced, fascinating journey inside the unconscious mind. His new book is the USA Today and Wall Street Journal #1 Best Seller Ignite a Shift: Engaging Minds, Guiding Emotions and Driving Behavior (Morgan James Publishing, July 2022). Learn more at solutionsinmind.com.