How to Motivate Others: The Science to Get it Done

June 10, 2019

Learn how to motivate others from Daniel Pink. The secret? Asking questions to motivate themselves.

It’s one of those vents you hear leaders make behind closed doors, again and again – why can’t people just do what I need them to do, without making a big deal about it? Why can’t it just be easy?

Well, according to leading researcher Daniel Pink, it’s because the vast majority of us approach motivating others the wrong way.

Most people approach motivation as convincing someone to do something. We figure, by providing enough facts or being persuasive enough, we’ll convince someone else to take on what we want them to take on.

The problem is motivation doesn't come from other people, Pink said in a course on LinkedIn Learning on motivating others. True motivation comes from within.

“We tend to think that persuasion or motivation is something that one person does to another,” Pink said. “And what the social science tells us very clearly is that it's really something that people do for themselves.”

So, does that mean it’s impossible to motivate someone, and therefore we shouldn’t try?

Not at all. Instead, the key is asking the right questions that’ll inspire people to motivate themselves, Pink said.

Daniel Pink explains the science behind motivation in the LinkedIn Learning course, Be a Better Manager by Motivating Your Team.

How to Use Questions to Motivate Others

In the course, Pink gave an example of motivating his daughter to clean her room. He recommends starting off by asking her, “On a scale of 1-10, how motivated are you to clean your room?”.

Likely, she’ll say something low, like two or three. Our instinct is then to try to convince her why she should be a 10.

That instinct is wrong. Instead, Pink says ask the opposite question. Ask, “Why are you a two, and not a one?”.

If you ask this, Pink’s daughter will start making her own case for why she should clean her room. She’ll likely talk about how it makes her more efficient, how a cleaner room makes her happier, etc.

And then she'll be much more likely to clean her room – and keep it clean.

The point? Instead of Pink trying to convince his daughter to clean her room, he’s asked two questions that leads to her convincing herself to clean her room. That'll motivate her far more than anything he could say or promise.

Here’s the principle – people might be momentarily motivated by external forces like bonuses or fear of getting fired, but that’s not lasting and often doesn’t get the best results. Instead, as a leader, you are far better off helping them uncover their own reasons for taking on a project.

So, next time you need a sales person to keep Salesforce more up-to-date, it’s easy to just demand they do it. But instead, ask them why they keep Salesforce up-to-date at all.

They’ll list the benefits of having Salesforce up-to-date. And that’ll give them their own motivation to do it regularly.

“Your job as a persuader, as a motivator, is to reset the context, and surface people's own reasons for doing something,” Pink said in the course. “Because it works a lot better.”

Want to learn more? Watch the full course on LinkedIn Learning, Be a Better Manager by Motivating Your Team.

Videos within the course cover: