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Looking for Motives - The Motive Center
October 16th, 2004
10:56 am


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Looking for Motives
Last post I referred to how a given motives can drive different and non-obvious actions, such as Achievement driving a salesperson to do influence-related behavior or Influence/Power driving friendly, affiliative behavior. The question then becomes: "How do I understand what really motivates someone?" Good question, especially since most people can't accurately identify their own motives! There are at least some answers below...

People are complicated, especially adults, who have had time to learn appropriate behaviors and generally have enough self-control to do things that are not driven by their emotions. Motives are relatively simple and very deep. If they weren't so powerful (emotional energy!) they'd be hard to see at all. If most people can't spot their own motives, how on Earth (or off, I'm not picky) do you spot others' motives?

Three answers:
1. Look for those behaviors that are closest to the motives themselves
2. Look for feelings and energy.
3. Look for how they persuade you

Looking for Behaviors
When someone does something they cannot explain, it is often motive-driven. The best test of this is when there is something else important to do. If it comes to a showdown between "important" and "fun," especially under pressure, a lot of people go to fun. This is part of the "why am I playing a video game the day before something is due?" phenomenon. Under emotional stress, people act out of their equally emotional motives--the self-control can't manage to bottle the pressure.

This is sometimes true even when not under emotional stress--if the important thing isn't close enough yet, it doesn't have enough strength to "out-vote" the motive.

Then the issue is down to "why is the person doing this?" Fun often means motive, but which one? Then you have to think hard. I referred to a manager micromanging--do they micromanage because they want to control a person, or just because they want to make sure the task is done right (right in this case meaning their way)? You have to be careful not to confuse your own reaction with their intent. If they seem blind to your feelings, that is a clue that perhaps their Power/Influence motive isn't in gear. And I mean "blind," not "deliberately ignoring." That's different. Cluelessness to impact on others is different, and often associated with people who have primarily Achievement motive, and little else.

Looking for Feelings and Energy
When do people light up? Or, alternatively, when do they get frustrated and anxious? Both relate to motives. If you are speaking to someone and they suddenly perk up--eyes brighten, they wake up, their pupils dilate, they get more energetic--that's a clue! Or when someone expresses frustration, what are they frustrated about? "I can't get this to work right!" versus "I can't get his attention on this!" versus "She turned on me!" What's the resentment about? What hurt their feelings?

Researcher Wei Chen found that asking people items about their frustrations actually worked better than items on what they liked. I can imagine several reasons for that, not least of which is that when something fits our values, we may call it satisfying. But negative emotions are often more precise.

Looking for How They Persuade You
Simple: people persuade in a way that is persuasive to themselves. That means they intuitively go for their own motives.

Achievement: "but it's the best way!" "I've worked it out--it's more efficient!" "But this saves time!"
Affiliation: "we're all counting on you!" "It'll hurt XYZ's feelings!" "But what about the team?"
Power: "Everyone will notice!" "Think of what a difference it'll make to everyone!"

There is one important exception to this: Power/Influence motivated people are often more tuned in to what will influence you, so they aim at your motive. It depends on how skilled they are at influence techniques and empathy, of course! (Maybe next time I'll talk about learning empathy...). But if someone is aiming at multiple motives, I'd guess they are power motivated, and trying anything that works. There was an excellent illustration of this in a Voyager first-season episode (#7?), oddly enough, when they were trying to persuade a Romulan to let them transport through a tiny wormhole.

Current Music: Mind Games

(4 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:October 16th, 2004 08:40 am (UTC)
Interesting stuff, Steve. This part seemed quite analogous to LJ in general to me:

Researcher Wei Chen found that asking people items about their frustrations actually worked better than items on what they liked. I can imagine several reasons for that, not least of which is that when something fits our values, we may call it satisfying. But negative emotions are often more precise.

What I've noticed tends to garner the most commentary on folks' LJs is not what we all agree on, but the statements or opinions that differ from our own. Could it be that the frustrations and the posts reflect a feeling of attack in some way, that deep down, we consider anything we can't overcome as a threat such that the only way for us to deal with it on a primal level is to get angry, or frustrated? Just something you made me think about. :"D And that's the point, isn't it?!

[User Picture]
Date:October 16th, 2004 09:28 am (UTC)

Commentary on LJ

Very good point indeed! Being attacked in some form can (temporarily) arouse a motive, too. Evolution 101: Fight or flight. So I should construe no news as good news on my LJ? Judging by the reaction thus far...?
[User Picture]
Date:October 16th, 2004 09:47 am (UTC)

Re: Commentary on LJ

You can construe it that way. It seems to me that a general reaction to ideas and ideals is that unless it runs directly against what the individual believes, it's generally accepted, perhaps with only a caveat or so. I think it also true that folks generally just like to poke holes whenever possible, and this somehow fulfils a need for superiority or somesuch.

Honestly, some of the posts I don't comment on have more to do with my understanding of what you're saying than anything else. If I don't feel I have a good enough grasp, I won't say anything for or against. So far, I've generally been taking this as a, "I'm with you so far" sort of thing. :"D It's all very interesting to say the least.

[User Picture]
Date:October 16th, 2004 06:56 pm (UTC)

Re: Commentary on LJ

Glad you like it--but if you don't follow, ask. Ultimately, I'd like to write a book on motivation for real people (as opposed to academics). It's too easy for me to drop into jargon.

And I was speaking in general, not about you in particular--you've been most responsive!

To your point: it spurred my thinking a bit. I was actually thinking of posting something more provocative (like something on fanfic) to see if it stirred up any reaction. I think I'll avoid that until I can nail it down...though I'm feeling a lot more confident on that front.
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