Last month I wrote about a few key points for motivating others inThe People Theory. I will discuss the influence of effective communication and its power when it is done with positivity, choices, and reflection.

Leadership would be easy if it weren’t for those being led. Dealing with people is very complex even in the best of situations.  Any leader or manager knows, getting people to actually want to perform the tasks which are needed can be a challenge.  Getting people to complete assignments by order and directives was proven to be ineffective decades ago.  People will not fully commit to a task unless they’re motivated to understand and accept your goals and objectives or the reason behind them.

Unfortunately, many managers rely on what Frederick Herzberg, the noted psychologist and creator of the Two Factor Theory,referred to as extrinsic or external motivators to get people to complete tasks.  For example, using rewards as enticements, or threats of punishment, are approaches aimed at obtaining short-term obedience and compliance. Extrinsic motivators overpower, rather than empower. Telling people what to do and then rewarding them if they do as expected, or threatening them if they do not, increases stress while diminishing professional relationships.  This approach is what Dr. Douglas McGregor, former professor of management at the prestigious MIT Sloan School of Management and author of “The Human Side of Enterprise”, referred to as the ‘carrot and stick’ approach as part of his Theory X management style.

Because these management approaches are manipulative, the results are never as effective as cultivating what Herzberg called intrinsic or internal motivation.  Manipulative approaches as in McGregor’s Theory X environment are something managers do to other people, but they have little long-term effects. This is in contrast to working with people to empower them.

Whenever imposing something on someone, it only produces short-term results because the person doesn’t have any ownership in it. Think about that for a minute!  If these extrinsic motivational approaches were effective, getting people motivated to carry out the organization’s objectives would be easy not something that consultants write countless books about so companies and their managers would read about.

The irony of manipulating behavior through extrinsic motivational practices is that the more managers use them in an attempt to control people, the less real influence they actually have. Although managers want to remain in control, the paradox is that the more they truly empower others, the more effective they become as leaders. In addition, if people only do something because they are forced to, not because they want to, managers haven’t really succeeded as leaders. Truly effective leaders know how to trigger intrinsic motivation for commitment, as in McGregor’s Theory Y management style, that results in people desiring to carry out objectives without the lure of a reward or the fear of repercussion.  

There are three powerful, enduring, and universal practices that will make management and motivating others much easier.  If managers can implement these practices on a consistent, sincere basis, their people will be more eager to accomplish mutually beneficial goals.  The first practice is one of positivity.


So often, when managers want employees or co-workers to change, they attempt to influence them by using negative rather than positive communication that would prompt them to want to do what managers need them to do. As an example, even the worst salesperson knows not to make the customer angry or upset.  However, because managers often allow emotions to take control, they often ignore this commonsense approach when dealing with people. Because many managers don’t have the basic instincts or haven’t been properly trained they don’t realize their words and tone of voice is sending a strong message which can be positive or negative.  However, even without a lot of training, it should be easy for managers to determine if they are sending negative messages if the words they use blames, complains, criticizes, or threatens.  Negative messages provide a multitude of factors which demotivates the workforce.

Positive communication, however, elevates the human spirit; it offers encouragement, motivation, inspiration, and support.  Positive communication sends the message that we have confidence in the other person’s capability to handle challenges and attain results.  Positivity creates hope and prompts feelings of being valued, supported, and respected. Communicating in positive terms triggers enthusiasm, capability, pride, dependability, and responsibility—none of which are triggered by negativity.

Positivity is so enabling it makes sense to immediately stop all thoughts and communication that are negative. Therefore, become conscious of phrasing statements in positive terms.  Managers should constantly ask, “How can I communicate this message in a positive way?” As an example, saying, “Don’t be late again tomorrow,” would be considered disabling, and prompts being late because the word “don’t” is not visualized; what comes after the “don’t” is what the brain visualizes. Instead it would be better to say, “I look forward to your being on time tomorrow.” The later prompts the picture managers want.  It is enabling, and much more effective.


 The second practice is one of choice.  When people resist doing something which is asked of them or do something contrary to instructions, managers should offer choices rather than force requests on them; then watch how quickly their resistance weakens. Offering choices paves the way to changing behavior and is much more effective than barking orders. By giving people some degree of control, the outcome will be greater cooperation. There is a simple reason is that ‘people do not argue with their own decisions’.

Even when there are no choices about whether or not something has to get done, managers can build in some element of choice.  Just a small choice qualifies because any choice allows the person to retain dignity and a feeling of personal power.  As an example, suppose a manager needs one of their employees to conduct a training session to educate customers about product features. The choice is not whether or not to do the training. The choice is in the how. “Would you like to do a live WebEx meeting or a recorded demo of the product features?” By giving a choice of how to do the presentation, the manager can avoid a confrontation by having an open discussion on the various choices in order to accomplish the task. Offering choices is a simple approach which can be used to reduce resistance and enhance a culture of employee engagement.


The third practice is reflection.  The most effective approach for influencing another person is to ask reflective questions. When specific reflective questions are asked, people are prompted to think, reconsider, change their minds, and grow from the experience. By asking this type of question, a manager will accomplish what they want more effectively, with less resistance, and with a lot less stress and confrontation. By having an employee reflect, the manager instantly avoids the person’s natural resistance to being controlled.

Reflective questions are non-coercive. They guide, rather than force. Reflective questions elicit a thinking response and are framed to fit the situation and clarify.  Reflective questions:

• Focus on the present or future, as opposed to the past.
• Often start with “What?” or “How?”
• Are typically open-ended.

As soon as managers start asking reflective questions, they typically realize immediately the effectiveness and power of this approach. Questions such as the following promote deep and reflective thinking:

• “What would be the best approach (to attain the productivity targets, reduce errors, etc.)?”
• “How can we correct this mistake?”

• “What would you recommend we do differently next time?”

• “What can we do to accomplish that objective?”

• “How can we do that without causing disruption (to R&D, manufacturing, shipping dates, etc.)?”

When managers regularly use effective communication techniques of positivity, choice, and reflection, they will become more effective. Additionally, their team members will naturally put more effort into their work and will achieve greater results. By switching from coercive management behavioral approaches to collaborative and empowering thinking approaches, managers can influence their people to perform at peak performance levels, which will positively affect their company’s bottom line.  When this happens, everyone wins and isn’t that what everyone wants?