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The Difference Between Motivation & Manipulation

Dan Bobinski
February 28, 2005 -- By Dan Bobinski 

Picture two managers talking by the water cooler:
“Boy, I wish we could find a way to motivate Jack.” 
“Yeah, me too. He’s not getting into this new program.”
“If only we could figure out a way to get him engaged.”
Anywhere you go, managers are seeking ways to motivate employees.  The problem is that employees cannot be motivated (before you take issue with that, let me finish). Motivation literally means “a reason to move.”  Each person’s reasons are different, but they have their reasons and therefore they are already motivated.
A mistake many managers make is thinking they are motivating people when in reality they are manipulating them.  Bottom line, it’s manipulation when we think of a reason others should do something and then convince them of our correctness. Quite frankly, this is not a quality approach.
Why not? Because we can’t force someone to do that which they choose not to do.  Someone else’s choices are not within our control. 
What we do have control over is the kind of workplace conditions we create, and it’s here where managers can shine: If conditions can be created to tap into existing employee motivators (within reason), employees will engage. But if the created environment clashes with employee value systems, employees will disengage.  It’s that simple.
Let’s examine this idea in more detail.  At issue is the need for certain work to be done and for employees to be engaged in the work. To make these two come together, win/win thinking needs to happen. Win/win thinking has two focuses: Courage to stand up for our own convictions, and consideration for the other party’s wants and needs.
Fortunately, the concept of thinking win/win was made popular by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  Unfortunately, the process of win/win thinking is still misunderstood, so let’s take closer look at the key piece that is missed so often: Considering the other person’s point of view.  Essentially, this means truly seeking out and understanding the other party’s perception—from their words, not from your own imaginings.
The easiest way to discover what employees want is to ask!  Although this seems simple enough, the illustration of the two managers standing by the water cooler at the beginning of this column point out an all too common sad truth: Managers will try to figure out others’ wants and needs by osmosis. It’s as if asking people what they want might indicate that the manager is somehow “less than all knowing,” and too many managers don’t like to appear as if they don’t know all the answers.  
Take, for example, Ken, a manager who decided he was going to start thinking “win/win.”  He sat in his office, contemplating his workers’ needs, and then decided how he would adapt his new plans to fit those needs. 
You can guess the problem that ensued.  When Ken tried to implement his ideas, his people were less than enthusiastic.  And of course, Ken got a little belligerent when they told him he wasn’t really considering their needs. 
From Ken’s perspective, he certainly was considering their needs. But from their perspective, he hadn’t asked their input—He only assumed he knew what they wanted.  In reality, Ken was manipulating, not motivating.
Understand this and you’ll understand the main difference between manipulation and motivation: 
    - Manipulation is thinking of a reason others will want to do something, and then convincing them of your correctness. 

    -  Motivation is genuinely seeking out the wants, needs, and desires of the other party, and then working with the other party to find solutions that meet your needs … and theirs.
Then everyone’s natural motivation (that is, their own reasons for movement) will drive them forward.    

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© 2005 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development, Inc. You may freely forward this information on condition that you send the text as an integral whole along with complete information about its author, date, and source.
Dan Bobinski is a certified behavioral analyst, the President and CEO of Leadership Development, Inc., and the co-author of Living Toad Free: Overcoming Resistance to Motivation. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.


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