Striving to Understand Self and Others

Mutual understanding depends on understanding oneself and understanding others. What motivates people to act as they do? When you determine the answer to this question for specific individuals, you will more likely communicate in a way that results in a positive change. Human beings are complicated and no simplistic rules exist for understanding what causes them to behave as they as they do. But insight into motivation helps you build bridges of understanding.

Three basic principles provide insight into why people behave in certain ways. Applying these principles helps you reach the goal of communication: mutual understanding by sender and receiver, and some change. Act on these principles, and your communication takes on a two-way dynamic, leading to more lasting, mutual understanding and long-term results. 

  • Principle #1. Behavior is caused. People are motivated for two basic reasons: either to gain a benefit, or to avoid a loss. Experience shows that when a certain circumstance, activity, or experience is satisfying or beneficial, people desire more of it. If a circumstance, activity, or experience is disagreeable or unpleasant, people do their best to avoid it. Understanding more fully why people move either toward certain behavior to gain a benefit or move away from certain behavior to avoid a loss can help you interact more effectively with them. Motivation is a “motive” for “action.” A motive is a reason, purpose, or goal; an action is to go, do, or act. Motivation is both motive and action combined: goal directed action. When someone sets a goal and starts working toward it, that person is motivated. In the truest sense of the word, you cannot motivate someone else; you can only create an environment conducive to motivation. Too many people try to use fear motivation, based on force, or incentive motivation, based on external reward, to get people to do what they want done. Fear and incentive motivation are only temporary because they involve non-personal, external needs only. Also, external fear and incentive tactics do not help individuals develop and use their innate talents and abilities. The only permanent motivation is attitude motivation, based on inward change. When people do something because they want to, not because they think they have to, when they are pursuing their own goals, then and only then are they truly motivated. Lasting motivation taps into the minds and hearts of others — not just their pocketbooks or their fears. Tapping into inward needs is the ultimate cause of effective, lasting motivation.
  • Principle #2. People are more likely to act on feelings or emotions than on logic. Regardless of how people arrive at certain judgments or beliefs, they are moved to action by feelings or emotions much more than by logic. Feelings play a more significant role in human behavior than most people recognize. In addition, feelings are created by what each person believes to be true, not by what others believe to be true. Experiences of people and how people react to those experiences form their feelings and their beliefs more than what someone else simply tells them. Even the most stoic, controlled individual is motivated more by feelings than others generally realize. Take feelings or emotions into consideration when interacting with others. Understanding and using the power of emotion in communication enables you to reach mutual understanding and win/win results more often.
  • Principle #3. People act for their reasons, not yours. When people think for themselves and solve their own problems, they are much more highly motivated. People rarely change patterns of behavior without considering the impact of their choice. They usually think about a situation before they take action on it. Admittedly, some people do a great deal more thinking and others do less thinking. But when you are aware that people act for their own reasons, you become increasingly concerned about what motivates them, not just what motivates you. With this awareness, you can guide their thinking toward constructive, self-motivated actions. Remember that different people take different paths to gain a benefit or to avoid a loss, but there is always a reason they behave as they do. People are motivated to action when they are led and encouraged to act in ways that meet their needs. Knowing this principle increases your success.