3 Deadly Reasons Why Trying To Motivate Others Is A Losing Game

Have you ever tried to motivate or persuade someone to do something they didn’t particularly want to do? How did that work out?

Business owners and managers have this ongoing challenge of trying to get employees to perform better, parents try to get their kids to do better at school or at home, and in personal relationships, couples may be nagging each other to do or stop doing something that may be annoying them.

Chances are, if you’ve tried to motivate someone, on some occasions, you may have successfully done so, but on most occasions, success was extremely short-lived. Why is that the case?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In a work situation, the problem, especially with inexperienced managers or business owners, is they are not aware of how to motivate their team members, so they resort to trying out different things, which may or may not be beneficial. The same thing is also valid for parents — unless they know how to motivate their kids, most of their effort will miss the mark, and can even create more friction with their kids.

I remember I once worked for a manager who had a very strong, domineering presence, which intimidated most employees. His way of motivating people was to lay down the law — “do it my way or else…” It’s not difficult to imagine that he rubbed most people the wrong way which resulted in employees not having a high level of respect for him. That did not create a pleasant work environment at all.

Sometimes we may do things we think will motivate others but it could have the total opposite effect — it can deflate or demotivate them. Here are five reasons why trying to motivate others is not the best long-term strategy, which can create a lot more challenges if our intentions are not received as we expect them to.

  1. Everyone has different motivators. While someone may be motivated by acknowledgement, recognition and appreciation, another person may be motivated by reward. We can be intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, therefore a “one way fits all” approach will very rarely work.
  2. It is usually someone else’s agenda. Parents want kids to clean their room because it is the parents who want a clean room. Similarly, managers want team members to perform better so they can help him or her achieve their targets or objectives.

    Whenever there isn’t buy-in from other people, trying to get them to do what we want is extremely difficult. There has to be alignment to common outcomes in order to influence someone to take an action we want them to.

  3. It is inconsistent. Think about New Year’s resolutions! We tend to be motivated for a very short period of time and then our motivation fades away. Why? It’s because we’re either inconsistent with our actions or we haven’t put the necessary behaviours or disciplines in place to maintain our motivation.

    The same is true with managers or bosses — they may do something initially to motivate their workers but not check in or follow up on a regular basis. That erodes trust and can actually do more long-term damage to the morale, performance and motivation levels of employees.

What can be done instead?

Here are three simple things that will help inspire people first, then motivate them to do what needs to be done.

  1. Be aware of what their drivers are. Most people’s favourite topic to talk about is themselves. Find out what their interests are or what they do that makes them feel excited. That will identify what their motivators are in life so you can use individualised tactics to motivate them.
  2. When in doubt, ask! Sometimes the answers are most obvious — just ask people what motivates them. They know themselves better than we do, so their answers can help us use the correct approach to help inspire and motivate them.
  3. Seek feedback. Oftentimes we are not aware of our behaviours and how they affect others around us. We may be doing things, unintentionally, which may be demotivating the people we associate with. Unless we’re willing to ask for feedback, we will continue doing things that are not helping others.

Motivation is very powerful if it is used the right way. The key is to be aware of the situations we’re in, what our intentions are, how we can best support others achieve mutual outcomes and only then, take the appropriate actions to inspire and motivate them.

If done well, it will be a win-win situation for all concerned. If not done well, it can do more harm than good to our relationships.

Action Step: Think back to the last time you tried to motivate someone to do something. Based on that experience, capture what worked well and what you could do differently if you’re in a similar situation again.

Question: What have you found to work or not work when trying to motivate others?

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