It makes no sense to try to motivate another individual by appealing to values he or she does not have. Yet people try this all the time because of self-hugging.
People have a natural tendency to think their values are best, not just for themselves, but for everyone - a tendency I call "self-hugging." People who discover how great it feels to win think they have learned something about human nature – that winning feels great – when in reality they have learned something about themselves – that winning feels great to them. Although competitive people like to win, many others prefer cooperation to competition and thus do not value winning. Similarly, people who find significant joy in socializing with friends believe they have discovered a universal truth – that peer companionship is necessary for happiness – when they have actually learned a truth about their own nature – that spending time with peers is necessary for their happiness. Extroverts value socializing, but introverts prefer privacy and solitude.
To motivate another person, you have to appeal to their values. This may seem straightforward, but apparently it is not. Too often we try to motivate others by indoctrinating them in our values rather than by appealing to theirs. A classic example of this is the coach who tells his team after a loss that the next game will be a test of their character. We have assessed thousands of athletes and have found that, as a group, they do not care much about their character. When we asked anonymous questions such as, “Agree/Disagree: I am proud of my reputation for character,” many of the athletes responded, “Disagree.” It makes no sense for a coach to try to motivate players by appealing to values they do not have. Below are a few more examples of misguided attempts to motivate others based on self-hugging:
- A number of employers use bonuses to try to motivate their employees. Only some workers, though, are motivated by extra money. Others are motivated by a need to feel competent and/or by a need to feel they are contributing to society.
- Some teachers believe that everyone is intellectually curious. Despite being faced with overwhelming evidence that a number of their students are not interested in intellectual pursuits, these educators persist in their efforts to teach such students the joys of intellectual life. The teachers are not appealing to the values of the students but instead are attempting to impose their own values.
- Hardworking parents may try to motivate their laid-back adolescents by telling them how important it is to be an achiever. Their easygoing adolescents, however, are not interested in achievement. Rather, these adolescents value leisure and work-life balance, goals that are the opposite of their achievement-oriented parents.
How can you learn the values of someone you want to motivate?
The Reiss Motivation Profile® is a scientifically-developed questionnaire that has been administered to more than 150,000 people on six continents including employees, business executives, athletes, coaches, students, educators, and parents. Data collected over almost three decades provide compelling evidence of 16 psychological needs common to us all and deeply rooted in human nature. These needs are acceptance, curiosity, eating, family, honor, idealism, independence, order, physical activity, power, romance, saving, social contact, status, tranquility, and vengeance. All human motives seem to reduce to these 16 needs or to some combination of them.
The 16 psychological needs express our goals and values. The need for curiosity, for example, is defined as the basic desire for understanding. An individual with a strong need for curiosity seeks to gain knowledge about a wide range of topics and places great value on theoretical ideas, whereas a person with a weak need for this basic desire is focused on practical information and prefers action over words. To motivate the former individual requires appealing to the person's need to think; to motivate the latter individual necessitates appealing to the person's desire to minimize intellectual activity.
In summary, our research has demonstrated that people are motivated to assert their values. If you want to motivate someone – an employee, athlete, student, or loved one – you would be wise to focus on what that person cares about, that is, the person’s basic desires, goals, and values.
Excerpted from The Reiss Motivation Profile: What Motivates You? by Professor Steven Reiss