There are many elements in the influencing arena, but motivational direction is an important one to understand and apply early in the process.
For a start, there’s your own motivational direction to consider. When you set goals and objectives for yourself, it makes sense to work with your inherent preferences rather than against them. Knowing your motivational direction in any given context is very useful.
As a logical follow-on, knowing someone else’s motivational direction can be extremely valuable to you when you’re attempting to influence them because it helps you form a workable opening strategy.
You can then apply your chosen influencing tactics and adjust them based on feedback.
In the modern world, you often can’t just demand that things happen. You can’t always get what you want via authority or force.
Therefore, you’ll frequently find yourself in situations where you must try to influence others to get what you want or need.
You might not like it but, if you want to make reasonable progress, influence is a constellation of skills which you need to learn.
BTW – if you prefer an audio version of this article, I have included one right at the end.
Influencing skills and Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence (EI), as I use the term, comprises four elements or pillars.
- Understanding others
- Managing relationships
EI therefore is an overarching skillset and set of approaches. EI skills are involved in pretty much everything we do in our private and working lives.
It makes sense to develop as many of the fundamental emotional intelligence skills as possible to become maximally effective when trying to influence yourself or others.
What is motivational direction?
Motivational direction, as I’ll use it in this article, means a preference someone has for either seeking gain or avoiding pain.
It can change according to situation and context.
For example, if you were in genuine physical pain, you would be strongly motivated to get away from that pain. It is an existential and biologically driven need which overrules any preferences.
In contrast and in a situation with no imminent or ongoing existential threats, you may prefer to spend money on something which will make you feel instantly happy in some way (seeking gain) over saving the same money to help offset any future disasters (avoiding pain).
In this article I’m going to adopt the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) terms “Towards” and “ Away from” to describe the two directions.
Also be aware that these two terms sit at each end of a continuum.
Everyone will have a certain preferential place on the continuum depending on the specific situation and context.
So, don’t think in absolutes here, think in abstracts or “broad brush” general terms.
These will then guide and inform you rather than direct you.
NLP and LAB Profiling
As an aside, I’m a big fan of Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP.
It’s something of a “Marmite” thing for many people – they either love it or hate it.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of ill-informed hype and BS orbiting around NLP which clouds the water and can obscure the good stuff.
In my experience at least, NLP is one of those things which works best when it’s being applied in practical situations.
The “Towards” or “Away from” preference is just one way amongst many to analyse human behaviour.
I’ve taken it from a more comprehensive approach called Language and Behavioural Profiling or LAB Profiling.
Roger Bailey developed this in the 1980s based on something called the NLP Meta model.
For more info on NLP in a general introduction form, you could check out the book “Brilliant NLP” by David Molden & Pat Hutchinson.
For a great read on LAB Profiling and how to do it, you could check out the wonderfully informative book, “Words That Change Minds” by Shelle Rose Charvet.
Using motivational direction to set effective goals for yourself
Let’s look at a simple yet typical example for many people, me included, and explore how knowledge of motivational direction preference can help when setting goals.
Let’s go with losing at least 10kg of weight.
BTW, I know it should be technically stated as 10kg of mass, but we’ll go with the popular usage – humble apologies to any physicists and engineers out there.
“Towards” preference goals
A typical goal statement for this preference might be, “I will lose at least 10kg before I go away on holiday this year so I will look good on the beach and be able to enjoy sightseeing walks with the rest of the family.”
If this style of language strongly resonates with you then you may well prefer “towards” style objectives.
Try setting “towards” framed goals with a highly desirable endpoint as the main objective. This approach should help you achieve more of your goals and see more success.
“Away from” preference goals
A typical goal statement for this preference might be, “I will lose at least 10kg before I go away on holiday this year because I hate feeling tired and sweaty on family sightseeing trips and I don’t want people staring at me when I’m on the beach.”
Hopefully you can see the difference in the style of language used. The two goals are the same because they are both meant to reduce the person’s weight by 10kg. Neither goal is better or worse than the other. They are just framed differently.
If this style of language strongly resonates with you then you may well prefer “away from” objectives.
Try setting “away from” framed goals with a situation or problem to be avoided as the main objective. This approach should help you achieve more of your goals and see more success.
What if neither of these motivational directions completely work for you?
This is not uncommon. A look at my own previous approach and current solution may help to illustrate why you may also be struggling.
I generally needed to lose weight because my diet, whilst highly enjoyable, wasn’t always as super-healthy as it could be. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I didn’t enjoy the process of losing weight one little bit.
So, whenever I decided to lose weight, I would usually be strongly motivated by an intense “away from” preference. I needed to lose some weight for a reason which overcame my dislike of losing weight.
I would bite the bullet and go at it with gusto. Salads, vegetables, smaller portions, healthy beverages, the whole nine yards.
I was usually quite successful up to about the halfway point. I’d get to a 5kg loss then I’d start to rationalise my way out of the goal. Dislike of dieting had overwhelmed my dislike of the extra weight and I had stalled.
I’d be telling myself something like, “5kg is enough. I’ve done well, and I deserve a little reward or three. I’m looking good now. No point being miserable and thin is there? I’ll just eat more healthily from now on and it’ll be fine.”
Except it wasn’t fine at all and I’d quickly go back to my old ways in short order.
I’d bought into my own BS yet again.
For me, I now know I must deliberately switch motivational preferences at the halfway point.
I must set goals which account for and correct my self-sabotaging tendencies.
Today I might phrase a 10kg weight loss goal like this. “I’m going to lose 10kg before I go on holiday because I hate feeling tired and sweaty on family sightseeing trips and I don’t want people staring at me when I’m on the beach. I’ll lose the first 5kg as quickly as possible then switch to a more sustainable and tastier diet with exercise to drop the last 5kg. Losing all 10kg will mean I really do look my best and won’t have to diet again for a good long while.”
This approach and solution work well for me. It starts with an “away from” position then switches to a combined “towards” and a longer-term more positive “away from” approach.
Someone else might start with a “towards” approach to a desirable target then switch to an “away from” position to avoid the pain of backsliding.
What approach might suit your motivational direction preferences?
Discovering and using the motivational direction of other people
Hopefully you’ll clearly see that working out how other people are primarily motivated is all about interpreting their language and behaviour.
Obviously, if they explicitly tell you what motivates them and how you can tap into that, then happy days.
In my experience, people don’t usually offer this easy option.
Developing your observing, questioning, and listening skills is the best way to work out the motivational direction of the people around you.
For example, if you ask someone what made them choose a holiday destination and they reply, “To get away from the awful British weather,” you’ve got a definite signal of an “away from” preference.
As another example, if someone says, “I love having deadlines to work towards,” there’s an obvious “towards” preference on display.
As an example, let’s say the person who you are trying to persuade to take on a new project, displays a marked “away from” preference.
If you tell them, “This project will lead to some fantastic results and you and the team will get a lot of great benefits when you get it done,” they may not be that impressed or willing to engage.
Try telling them, “Completing this project will eliminate a ton of boring admin work for you and the team,” and you may notice more interest.
It’s all about experimenting based on available evidence. If your opening gambit doesn’t work, try the opposite approach in case you misread the earlier signals.
So, to become more influential, you will need to work hard on becoming highly attuned to the language use of the people around you. Also work hard to carefully observe the behaviours they exhibit in response to events and situations.
Go even further and work hard to maximise all your Emotional Intelligence skills.
Become a keen student of human psychology, language, and behaviour.
Check out all the other LAB Profiling methods. They’re an accessible and powerful set of tools. I will likely publish more articles on them so subscribe to the blog for notifications.
You could even explore more about NLP. I found the study and application of it to be transformational.
That’s all for this one
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PPS Here is the audio version of this article if you would prefer to listen.