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Whether you’ve been in a leadership role or you’ve ever been a part of a team, I’m sure at some point you have felt the frustration of other people slacking off.
Alternatively, you may have been in a situation where you see someone else’s potential so clearly, but they don’t have the confidence to see it themselves.
In my last professional position, working with people who were not motivated was not only frustrating but was also detrimental to many projects that had to go through a number of people before becoming approved. If I had known how to motivate someone and how to inspire people to get to work, my everyday life would have been less discouraging and much more productive.
Knowing how to properly motivate others is an extremely useful skill, both in your personal and professional life. Now, I say “properly” because some approaches to motivating others can be destructive, such as through fear or intimidation.
While these methods can seem useful in quickly getting people to do what you want, these approaches are not only hurtful; they’re also only a short-term solution.
If you’re trying to motivate your partner to help out around the house, motivate your kids to stop fighting with each other, or motivate your employees to do a better job at work, you will need the strategies laid out in this article to be effective.
Here, we will look at nine strategies that you can use to effectively motivate the people in your life. When you’re trying to motivate others, you want to instill a sense of intrinsic motivation in them so they will really feel inspired to be able to motivate themselves on a daily basis to get up and do the work they need to do to be successful.
Intrinsic Motivation vs Extrinsic Motivation
Let’s take a quick look at the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation:
Intrinsic motivation: When you feel like you’re the one who is in control of your life, you’re more likely to dedicate time and effort toward your long-term goals because they’re derived from your own interests.
Extrinsic motivation: If you feel like you’re being controlled and you have to follow strict rules and obligate your time to tasks that ultimately benefit someone else, you’re less likely to show persistence in pursuing your own goals and only boost your performance for short periods of time if a reward is offered. Check out this post to learn more about extrinsic motivation examples.
You will find the following strategies to be inspiring for the long-term rather than a quick fix that will boost motivation for only a small amount of time. But, before we take a look at these strategies, let’s talk about what you have to do before you even attempt them.
How to Motivate Someone
Step 1: Motivate Yourself
Enthusiasm, motivation, and inspiration are contagious. If you aren’t motivated yourself, it will be near impossible to motivate anyone else. Furthermore, if you're taking good care of yourself and your responsibilities, you'll better understand how other people are doing in theirs.
It’s helpful to start by recognizing your own motivations and then try to understand the other person's motivations. Maybe being able to spend time with their family is a motivating factor or recognition of a job well done. How is this person’s situation or environment configured to support their motivations? Keep this in mind when talking to someone by knowing your audience.
Now, let's get into a few great ways to motivate others.
1. Share Books/Articles/Podcasts That You Find Inspiring
This is where being motivated yourself comes in handy. What resources have made a big impact on you? Maybe you’ve read a book that you found especially inspiring, or you’ve listened to a motivating podcast.
What sources of motivation have helped guide your most critical decisions? What has made you into the happy, healthy, and positive person you are now?
Share anything that has been a positive influence on you and ultimately shaped who you are so other people can benefit from these sources as well.
2. Encourage People to Take That First Step
Whenever you hear someone talking about a great idea, be the one who encourages them to follow through with it by taking the first step.
Starting the journey to realize a dream can be really intimidating, so taking the first step can be the hardest part. When people have an idea or a long-term goal, it’s pretty typical to push it off into the future, especially if there is no driving force present.
This means people end up procrastinating by spending way too much time thinking about their goal but never creating an action plan. This is really just a way to avoid tackling the bigger objectives. You have to encourage people by saying things such as:
After you’ve offered your encouragement, ask them what their first step will be. If they’re not sure, it’s ok to brainstorm and make suggestions, but it’s important to let the other person ultimately decide what their first step will be so they can remain in the driver’s seat and commit themselves to the process. After all, they’re working toward their goals for themself, not for you.
Once someone has decided to take that first step, make sure to say “congratulations” and remind them of what a good job they’re doing. Do this by talking to them, giving them your attention, and lending a listening ear whenever it’s needed.
3. Ask “What if…” Questions
Asking people open-ended questions, such as, “How would you spend your time if you didn’t have to work?” will help you get to know the other person better and learn about their values, passions, and visions for the future.
Questions that start a conversation (rather than yes/no questions) are the best way to get to know someone else’s dreams. Some other examples include:
Doing this helps invite people to generate their own unique goals. Listen carefully to the answers to your questions to ask follow-up questions to dig a bit deeper, such as, “How does that make you feel?” or “What interests you about ______?”
Furthermore, resist any temptation to give directives and instead work diligently with the other person to gain an understanding of their perspective.
4. Listen to What the People in Your Life Say
It’s common for people to motivate others by giving them a long speech, but this is not very effective because motivation has to come from inside the other person. They won’t stay motivated if they’re doing something for you, they will only keep going if they’re fulfilling their own dreams.
Sometimes, just offering your undivided attention can be encouraging enough to give someone the boost needed to make a move. Use your active listening skills to show you have a sincere interest in what they’re saying so they can develop their own ideas and, if needed, get a clear understanding of their own dreams. If your opinion is requested, offer it, but definitely do a lot more listening than talking.
The science behind motivation tells us that motives are internally generated and often influenced by one’s past or current conditions (such as social contexts or environmental events). Knowing what the internal forces are for someone will help direct you to a proper intervention to boost motivation, and you can only learn what those are by listening.
Depending on the motivational roadblock you’re dealing with, you can customize your intervention to target unmet needs or desired emotional states and help the person adjust their environment conducive to increased motivation.
5. Offer Feedback
Giving feedback can help you motivate other people–especially if you know how to give constructive feedback in a way that leaves people feeling positive about the future. Of course, not all feedback is constructive, so delivering and wording your feedback the wrong way could potentially make the recipient feel like you’re personally attacking them. Not only will this lead to defensiveness, but it will also cause hurt feelings and demotivation.
Before offering feedback, make sure that the person wants your advice. They may or may not be interested in hearing your opinion, so ensure that you’re trying to support them on their road to success. If they decline the offer, don’t force feedback on them. However, if they accept the offer, let them know specifically what you intend to help them accomplish so you can be clear about your rationale for giving your opinion.
If you’re really trying to help someone improve their work or performance, think about how you would want the feedback to be presented to you if you were in their shoes. Stick to the facts to avoid any emotional involvement and make sure you allow for a two-way conversation (rather than a directive) that will lead to a positive outcome.
If you’re respectful during the conversation by paying attention to their reaction, you can create a sense of trust and continue to be proactive in helping them in the future.
When offering feedback, be specific and concise. You don’t want to be redundant or give your opinion in excess. Also, you will want to make sure that your feedback is related to the person’s performance rather than their character. Part of this means you shouldn’t point out their faults; rather, you should focus on their growth opportunities.
We will have more on offering positive feedback to those you are trying to motivate while also going through difficult times.
Finally, you should direct your feedback toward the future–not apply it to the present. You’re showing that you believe in their dream and you’ve become personally invested in ensuring their success.
Giving high-quality feedback does require some effort, but it’s a critical component of encouraging someone to do their best.
6. Make the Person Feel Something
As we talked about before, some common (albeit negative) motivators are things such as fear, jealousy, or punishment. These are all feelings that make them powerful (but harmful) motivators.
We don’t usually do anything without some type of feeling or emotion behind it–and it’s extremely difficult to resist anything that evokes a positive emotion. After all, the word “emotion” is derived from Latin, and it literally means “to move.”
Making someone feel something isn’t the same as appealing to their emotions, which is a logical fallacy. Instead, it’s about getting them to attach an emotion or feeling to reaching their goal. This is often why vision boards are so effective–they make people feel something. Your vision board’s focus should be on how you want to feel in the future, not just on the material things that you eventually want to acquire.
For example, if the person has attended some conferences or retreats where they felt a huge sense of inspiration and positive energy, they could add a trinket from that retreat to their vision board to aim to feel that sense of motivation again.
Also, consider some inspirational cards or notes from friends and coworkers whom the person admires or meaningful and inspirational quotes.
Time Magazine reports that according to Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, the most effective way to motivate people is to change their behavior in some way, and this is the most successful when you speak to their feelings.
So, what is an effective emotion to focus on? Research shows that few things are as motivating as progress. According to the progress principle, out of everything that could potentially boost emotions and therefore increase motivation, the absolute most important is the feeling of making progress in meaningful work.
Facilitating progress in another person’s work by focusing on their small wins up to this point can help remind them of any progress they’ve made thus far and motivate them to keep going.
7. Offer Words of Encouragement
If you’re like me, you find it very upsetting when you see someone who is important to you lacking the confidence they should have.
But the truth is, most of us don’t see the potential in ourselves that others see, yet we can clearly identify potential in those around us. It’s easy to get frustrated when you can’t seem to help people see how much they’re worth.
Although it sounds simple, offering words of encouragement can be really powerful. In fact, a study done by Brain and Behavior showed that hearing words of encouragement has such a strong impact on the mind that repeating an encouraging phrase can quiet down your busy and distracting thoughts and help you focus on what’s important.
Think about it: most of the good things we do (both personally and professionally) are often not acknowledged, so if someone does something great, tell them that you noticed and congratulate them.
Consider how you may feel if you’re making it through a typical day and someone approaches you to compliment you on your work or commends your efforts on a specific project. This is a great motivating factor that can help you want to work even harder.
In fact, 40% of Americans who work report that they would put more effort into their work if they got recognized for it because it would make them feel like their work is meaningful.
Here are some examples of things you could say:
8. Challenge Them
This may not be the perfect approach for everyone, but generally, people aren’t motivated by doing the ordinary, everyday things they’re used to or by just meeting expectations. Rather, they’re motivated by the idea of exceeding expectations and showing that they can accomplish something that even they once believed may not be possible.
Challenge the person to be the best and do the best by living up to their potential. Help them when they’re creating tangible goals by pushing them past what they believe to be their limits.
When you’re motivating people, you’re not giving them directions; you’re empowering them to give it their all and trusting that they will follow through. And while what they end up doing might not be exactly what you expected, it could be something far beyond what you had even hoped for them.
9. Help Them Create a Vision
We talked about creating vision boards earlier, but what if the person you’re trying to motivate really has no idea what they want for their future?
Helping someone create a vision who doesn’t already have one may seem pointless to them, but this is actually one of the most effective ways to help someone else achieve a life they genuinely want to live. Explain to the other person that their vision will act as their compass to guide them to making the right decisions to move them closer to their best life.
Life satisfaction and contentment are attainable, but the truth is, if you don’t have a vision for yourself, you will let other people direct your life. Helping someone create their own vision is a huge gift and will end up being a significant motivator, whether they see it right away or not. A fulfilled life doesn’t usually happen by coincidence, it happens by design.
Now, you don’t need to hold the person’s hand all the way to the point that they have a definite and explicit vision—envisioning the path you want to take requires self-awareness and reflection, time, and planning. But you can help by exploring the possibilities with them and helping them think bigger.
And remember, help the other person consider every aspect of their life, including personal and professional aspects, relationships, success, family, tangible vs. intangible desires, personal growth, spirituality, and, of course, leisure and hobbies.
Yes, it's a good idea to also include the “stuff” you want, but the more your vision focuses on how you want to feel in the future, the more likely it is to come to life. Here are some other tips to keep in mind as you’re helping someone create their vision:
Now, this may be something that the other person wants to take on alone after you’ve discussed the benefit of creating a vision, and that’s fine–you can feel good about getting them started with it.
Just tell them to try to create a vivid picture of their ideal future–and if they can’t, then try to focus on how they would feel if they were living their best life. If it’s too hard to envision 20+ years into the future, start small with just a few years to have a place to start.
Motivation and Psychological Needs
Are you aware that certain psychological needs actually motivate behavior? The Self-Determination Theory (SDT) shows us that we are the cause, source, and origin of our behavior. Our three basic psychological needs are autonomy or self-determination, competence or capability and effectiveness, and affiliation, or relatedness and belonging.
You will find closure, cognition, meaning, power, self-esteem, and achievement, among our other psychological needs. These things motivate us to arrive at a conclusion and avoid failure. So, how can you use this to motivate others? Help them visualize their long term goals, offer encouragement, and praise their efforts and progress.
How to Motivate Someone Having a Difficult Time
Motivating someone while they are having a difficult time or who is not motivated at all may prove to be more challenging. Motivation is all about taking action and being clear. Below, you will find many of the same steps, but these emphasize positivity on a slightly higher level.
Above all, when a team member, employee, or colleague is going through a difficult time, showing patience in any motivational strategy can go a long way and show them that you still want to motivate and inspire them.
Provide them with a vision and clear goal, provide regular feedback, make them a part of the solution, communicate, and don't overlook the power of positive feedback for job satisfaction.
For additional tips, check out our post on simple ways to comfort someone when they're sad.
Final Thoughts on Motivating Others
After you have done what you believed you could to motivate someone, follow up with them periodically to ask about their progress. This will show them that you really do care and you’re there to keep them accountable. Also, while they likely won’t need anything from you, it’s a good idea to offer–because there is a chance that some of your skills or resources could help them at that moment.
When trying to motivate others, it’s important to identify their values and their motivating factors so you can conform your approach to the individual. And because you want to instill long-term motivation in the person, you will definitely want to encourage them to learn how to motivate themselves.
As a result of motivating someone else, you will gain more passion and drive to reach your own goals, you will have more successful people in your life, and other people may want to help you realize your dreams in return. This is a win-win skill to have, so start by using these strategies when you see someone who needs a boost of encouragement.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.