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Bringing Out the Best in Others at Work
August 19, 2019
Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions by managers everywhere is "How do I motivate my people?"
The answer is you cannot. What you can do is understand how to bring out the best in them and leverage their intrinsic motivation which is far more productive than extrinsic motivation. When people are intrinsically motivated, they come from a place of personal satisfaction and a sense of purpose. Intrinsic motivation ranks at the higher levels of Maslow's Hierarchy that reflect people's emotional and psychological needs. According to the self-determination theory, developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan in the mid 1980s, to encourage intrinsic motivation people need three things:
- Autonomy: the ability to direct their own lives, have choices, and control
- Mastery: the need to learn, to create something new and to become better at something that matters to them
- Purpose: understanding the meaning behind what they do and a sense they are contributing to something greater and lasting.
Behaviors and Needs in the Workplace
To bring out the best in others (and yourself), it can be helpful to consider what need is behind the behavior, what need is this person trying to meet? What's triggering the response, reaction, or behavior?
Such motivations and needs are complex, varied, multi-faceted and changing however, they can be organized in five broad groups of motivators:
- Control: Holding on to an idea so tightly that we alienated others. The need to control the environment is so strong that we are willing to jeopardize connection with others.
- Pride: Think about people who feels it's shameful to show emotions at work. Their need for pride is so strong they risk being seen as "cold" or "unemotional".
- Protection: You may have encountered a colleague who doesn't talk to others, does not engage in team activities, and may even fail to greet folks with a 'Good Morning' or 'How are you?' The need here might be to protect themselves from rejection by rejecting everyone else first.
- Fear: Consider the supervisor who dismisses new ideas or suggestions or takes credit for others' ideas. Maybe the supervisor fears loss of standing or position.
- Acceptance: Think about a time when someone acted in a way that seemed out of character because "everybody else was doing it". Perhaps the need for acceptance outweighed a sense of right and wrong.
Leadership Tips for Bringing Out the Best in Others
If we can see past the behavior, and identify the need or possible motivation, we can consider the best strategy to bring out the best in a person. This means we may have to look at others with a new set of eyes. We have to challenge ourselves to see beyond the surface behavior and avoid making assumptions about a person's behavior. Here are some tips for achieving this:
1. Encourage others to Talk about Themselves:
Most people like to talk about ourselves. Dale Carnegie mastered this skill and was the premise of his well-known book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People". So, an effective way to bring out the best in others is to talk less and listen more. This sounds simple but it can challenge our listening skills.
For example, one of your colleagues is going on and on about how much harder they work than everyone else and how no one appreciates their work. Think: what would your initial reaction be? (Annoyed? Angered?) Now, challenge yourself to think about what needs might be motivating this behavior? (Suggestions: need for acceptance, to feel valued, to feel important).
So, while your initial thoughts might be to dismiss your colleague's comments or to "strike back" by talking about how hard you work too, challenge yourself to engage your colleague to meet this need. For example, "Your work must be really important to you to put that much devotion into it, tell me how you do it?"
2. Avoid Telling Others They Are Wrong.
What's it like for you when someone tells you that you are wrong? Does this bring out the best in you or does it bring out defensiveness, feelings of hurt, or disappointment? For most of us, it brings out the later. You can disagree with someone without saying the words "you're wrong".
Try this approach instead: "I see it a little differently than you do", or even, "Tell me more about why you see it that way". Remember, we don't have to agree on everything. It's okay to just see things differently than someone else.
3. Admit It When You Are Wrong.
We all make mistakes. We need to be ok with admitting them. Others likely will respect this and be more understanding and forgiving when we do.
4. Assume Positive Motivations.
As we noted, bringing out the best in others has a lot to do with our assumptions and expectations. If we assume that behavior is motivated out of maliciousness we interact with each other accordingly. If we assume that behavior is motivated out of good or a need, we will interact accordingly.
For example - A colleague gives you a book entitled, "Tasty Recipes for Weight Loss". What assumptions might we make about this gift? How would your assumptions influence future interactions with this colleague?
5. Look for Potential.
It's usually easier for us to see the negative than to see the positive, to see what's missing rather than what's present, and to see what's going wrong rather than what's going right. The good news is we can develop the skill of seeing potential. Nourish potential by providing ways for people to shine, to set people up for success. Even the most challenging person has strengths. If you are challenged, ask others to help you to seek and nourish this person's potential.
6. See Beyond Strong Emotional Reactions.
Remember that strong emotional reactions are likely about fear. Work to see beyond the surface reactions and respond to the fear. This may mean giving yourself some time before you respond to someone. Responding to the surface reaction will only perpetuate a surface discussion and the issue will never get resolved.
The Secret to Engaged Employees
Bringing out the best in others is a win-win situation but it requires a new way of thinking, seeing and interacting. Try one or two of the suggestions above and don't stop until you find strategies that work for you and your co-workers.
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