The difference between manipulation and motivation

Feb 28 2005 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

Picture two managers talking by the water cooler:

"Boy, I wish we could find a way to motivate Jack."

"Yeah, me too. Heís 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 ďa reason to move.Ē Each personís 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, itís 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 canít force someone to do that which they choose not to do. Someone elseís choices are not within our control.

What we do have control over is the kind of workplace conditions we create, and itís 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. Itís that simple.

Letís 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 partyís 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 letís take closer look at the key piece that is missed so often: Considering the other personís point of view.

Essentially, this means truly seeking out and understanding the other partyís perceptionófrom 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 othersí wants and needs by osmosis. Itís as if asking people what they want might indicate that the manager is somehow ďless than all knowing,Ē and too many managers donít like to appear as if they donít know all the answers.

Take, for example, Ken, a manager who decided he was going to start thinking ďwin/win.Ē He sat in his office, contemplating his workersí 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 wasnít really considering their needs.

From Kenís perspective, he certainly was considering their needs. But from their perspective, he hadnít asked their inputóHe only assumed he knew what they wanted. In reality, Ken was manipulating, not motivating.

Understand this and youíll 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 everyoneís natural motivation (that is, their own reasons for movement) will drive them forward.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. Heís also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence