Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Indeed?

Regarding Gain Some Perspective Tuesday, Sree points out...
Ah, perspective… a topic on which I seem to spend a lot of mental energy. Teflon, you supply very useful questions and tips designed to help us understand other people’s motivations and perspectives. But you touched only very lightly on Why; “In general, I think that understanding perspective is better than not”. In my experience, that’s the missing piece.

People who have no desire to understand the motivations that drive other people’s actions are usually the ones you see fuming and fretting when things don’t go their way. To them, the world looks quite harsh and hostile, even unpredictable and erratic. I remember having that experience early on in my life, and it drove me to ‘figure out’ the world, or minimally, get a model that would explain more of all the inexplicable stuff happening in my world.

Perspective is like having a rear-backup camera feature in your car when you’re backing into a tight parking spot. If you have the benefit of the view before the accident happens, it saves you a bumper repair bill. But even if you have it only after the fact, you at least know why it happened, and what you can do next time to prevent it.

So, insight into other people’s motivations helps us:
  • Be friends with the world
  • Get what we want more often
  • Spend less effort getting what we want
  • Be more at peace during the times when we don’t get what you want
  • Have closer relationships with the people in our life; understanding people is the first step to building trust
I’ve seen this described in books as being tuned to the radio station that everybody is on: WII-FM: What’s In It For Me?
Regarding motivation, I do believe I mentioned the lack of perspective being the root cause of war; however, I think Sree provides a much more thorough and compelling list of reasons for gaining perspective. Most represent long term benefits of living a life that's tuned in to the world and people around you. However the one that you can benefit from immediately is Getting what you want.

Getting What You Want
How many times have you tried to motivate someone to do something by sharing why you want it rather than sharing why it would be beneficial to her? If you're like most people, you probably do this more often than not. While this tact may work with your mom, it's not the most useful way to appeal to others.

If you really want to be good at getting what you want, then gaining the perspective of the potential giver is critical. Consider a child who wants a new puppy. There are several motivational strategies that he might pursue with his parents:
  1. Pitiful: Oh mom and dad, I just feel so lonely every day after school. No one wants to play with me. If only I had a dog to be my friend...
  2. Guilty as Charged: You promised that you'd take us on vacation this year and that you'd spend more time with me, but you never did. If only, I could have a puppy, I wouldn't feel like you'd totally let me down.
  3. Godfather: Mom, if I can't have a new puppy, then I'm never gonna clean my room ever again.
  4. Risk Mitigation: Dad, if you get me a new puppy then I'll totally take care of her. I'll walk her three times a day and feed her and clean up after her. I'll be really, really, really, responsible.
  5. WII-FM: Mom and Dad, if I were you, I'd be thinking about getting me a puppy. Rather than driving me to friends' houses or having me in your hair every day after school, I'd be out with my new puppy playing to my heart's content.
Of course, all the above carry some factors that are motivational to the parents. Parents want to see their children happy and are often suckers for the pity play. Guilt is the age-old cure-all motivator for suckers the world over. Watching children in public is also a clear indication that many parents succumb to threats and undesired behavior. Risk mitigation is often used, but it also tends to highlight de-motivators. Although used infrequently, WII-FM can have the greatest impact of the all.

The Reverse Sale
Good sales people know that you don't sell the features of a product, you sell its benefits. The best sales people no how to quickly dial into what the potential customer would consider beneficial. How? Understanding the customer's perspective by observing and asking questions.

A great car sales person will quickly discern if a potential buyer is motivated by economy, or safety, or flashiness, or speed and performance. She'll not only discern the list of motivators, but she'll also understand why they're motivational. It's one thing to say, "This car is very economical." and another to say, "It's so hard to make ends meet nowadays. On the one hand, you could keep your old car a few years longer to save some money, but then you just never know when it's going to break down. It could be a safety hazard. I think I have something that will allay your concerns while fitting within your budget."

Sometimes, just knowing that someone actually gets it can be truly motivating. You breathe a sigh of relief thinking, "Finally, someone who understands where I'm coming from."

Ensuring Denial
Although what I've described above may make sense, it's not common practice. Consider the ubiquitous queue: waiting in traffic, waiting at the airport checkin, waiting at the supermarket checkout, waiting for a table at a restaurant. Typically, the person who's serving the queue (the cashier, the flight agent, the teller, the waitress) is feeling the pressure and stress of too many people and too much to do. Still, how often to you see the person who's finally reached the front of the queue recognizing and acknowledging the server's perspective?

There's a story about a man who after waiting an hour to check in at the airport became quite testy and belligerent with the flight agent, blaming her for everything and threatening to report her to the airline. She listened calmly, acknowledged his concerns and remained completely pleasant throughout his diatribe. After he stormed off to the gate for his flight to Chicago, the next man in line commented to her on how calm she'd been and how she hadn't reacted at all. He asked her how she'd managed to stay so easy and non-defensive. She smiled and said, "Oh that's easy. I have an outlet that always lets me remain calm and peaceful. That man is flying to Chicago. I've just checked his bags to Singapore."

Not understanding the perspective of others can often lead to not getting what we want.

Getting What You Want
Where in your life have you repeatedly failed to get what you want? Getting your children to pick up after themselves? Getting your partner to join you in an activity? Getting your boss to give you a promotion or a raise? Getting your neighbors to cooperate with you in approving your home addition?

How have you gone about seeking compliance? Being pitiful? Threatening? Trying to mitigate the downside? Have you really made a good case for what you want from the perspective of the person you want to motivate? How would you?

Happy Extended Perspective Wednesday

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