Effectively motivating others is hard and can be a job unto itself — unfortunately, it’s a necessary skill almost everyone will find themselves having to do and do well at some point in their lives, whether you are a manager, a parent, a team leader, or a multitude of other roles that are both professional and personal.
You may think you know what you’re doing when it comes to motivating, but you could also be sabotaging your (and their) long-term success if you are employing any of these 10 common “motivational” practices that actually KILL motivation.
1. Using threats and punishment
“In motivating people, you’ve got to engage their minds and their hearts. I motivate people, I hope, by example – and perhaps by excitement, by having productive ideas to make others feel involved.” – Rupert Murdoch
While threatening punishment may be one of the most common ways people in charge try to motivate others, it doesn’t work. As professor of leadership and organizational psychology Ronald E. Riggio points out in Psychology Today, “Punishment is designed to stop undesirable behavior. It does nothing to motivate people.” Furthermore, punishment often results in resentment and faking busyness. Threatening punishment if a job isn’t done the right way, for instance, may result in the person doing the job the way you wanted it, but the motivating factor will have been fear, which is, long-term, not as effective in reaching long-term goals. The lesson: punishment is NOT motivation. That brings us to …
2. Dwelling only on the negatives
“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” – Epictetus
The best motivation is about using positivity to inspire and empower people to reach a goal. Focusing on only the negatives and mistakes, as much as they are likely to stick out to you, can demoralize. As well, if there are so many problem with an employee you’re trying to motivate, for instance, how does that reflect on you? Emphasize what is being done well and restate the goals that need to be met, and use constructive criticism when talking about how to reach those goals. While you’re staying balanced in what you address, make sure you’re not …
3. Doing all the talking
“Management is nothing more than motivating other people.” – Lee Iacocca
If it’s a performance review, for example, learn to stop and listen to what the person might have to say. A performance review’s ultimate goal should be about how to maintain or improve performance, and that may not be achieved if you don’t know what is affecting an employee’s performance and the employee doesn’t feel heard. Listening may figure in even more heavily when trying to motivate someone in a personal capacity — how can you effectively motivate anyone when you don’t know their specific viewpoint or circumstance?
4. Not tailoring rewards to the individual
“Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
We oftentimes make the mistake of believing that what we value, others must also value the same. But that’s obviously not true. Don’t assume, for instance, that two different people value verbal praise the same way. While one person may enjoy being singled out and lavished with praise, another may find it embarrassing and prefer a different type of reward. A reward simply isn’t a reward if the person who is receiving it doesn’t feel very positively about it. Also, make sure the reward is commensurate to the work that is being rewarded — a small reward for big results can be a let-down. Giving a company mug to a person who’s doubled their productivity just doesn’t work because the amount of work put in isn’t anywhere close to the amount they’re being given back. You can also neutralize the benefits of rewards if you’re …
5. Rewarding the wrong things
“A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” -Ayn Rand
Rewarding the wrong behaviors can backfire. Rewarding someone for being a yes man/woman, for example, only serves to make sure that they keep agreeing with you in the future — but does their constant outward approval mean goals will be reached more efficiently? No, it doesn’t. Focus on the results and the behaviors that best help reach the desired results, and reward those productive behaviors.
6. Having unclear or unattainable goals
“Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Motivation first requires a goal — what are they trying to achieve? Having an unclear goal, or even worse, no goal at all, means that any motivating you do, no matter how good, will be inefficient. Having unattainable goals, on the other hand, means that even if you do motivate a person to try their best, they will fall short in the end, which results in the opposite of motivation: demoralization.
7. Dismissing their ideas
“If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.” – Steven Johnson
While not all ideas are equal, that doesn’t mean that the effort and initiative behind lesser ideas isn’t worth encouraging. Fairly considering and discussing all ideas means that they will stay motivated to keep coming up with new ideas, at least one of which may eventually prove to be the best idea of all. If someone comes up with an idea that makes you scratch your head, don’t dismiss it — take the time to talk about it constructively and then ask for more ideas.
8. Using “I,” “me” and “my”
“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” – Bill Gates
Management professor and author Daniel Newman writes, “People simply want to feel a part of whatever they are doing. When they don’t connect to the cause, the motivation and performance will lag behind as well.” Be careful about your use of “I,” “me” and “my” in any communication, because while it may have seemed harmless in the moment, it can indirectly dismiss others’ work. Remember that you need others just as much as they may need you, and that goals achieved together should mean that everyone wins. It’s simply a fact that we as humans are usually most easily motivated by what is beneficial to us, and a motivator that talks only about what is beneficial to him/her will not succeed.
9. Withholding information or feedback
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford
Successful and motivated teams need to have unity and understand the grand vision. Keeping important information or constructive feedback from them only serves to keep them in the dark and can lead to distrust and confusion. A person who is best motivated not only knows the details of where they need to go and why, but also how they’re going to get there. Let’s say you needed to work toward a specific goal, but you didn’t know exactly why — you’d be less motivated at best and completely reticent at worst. Having knowledge and believing that you have a direct and open line of communication means better motivation.
10. Stop motivating
“Of course motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.” – Zig Ziglar, Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World
Staying motivated requires upkeep. Don’t think that just because you’ve helped motivate a person once that they won’t need to be re-motivated when they’ve hit a bump in the road or have gotten too comfortable without having reached their goal. Remember that we all have our off days and others’ motivation can help make sure those off days don’t become off weeks or months.