Understand Your Team: 4 Simple Things That Motivate Employee Behavior

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 25, 2016

Many years ago, I participated in a business coaching/mastermind group led by Rick Corbin.  During one of our many sessions, he shared an insight on human behavior that has stuck with me all these years. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but here’s the gist of it:

 People are ultimately motivated to do one of four things:

  1. Be Right.
  2. Feel Safe.
  3. Look Good.
  4. Feel Good.

And if you look at the people in your life through this very simplistic lens, you can quickly see what is their primary motivator.  (I have also discovered that the higher their emotional intelligence, then the harder it is to discern their primary motivator, but I digress).

But the true insight comes from our behaviors as a result of our primary motivator.  It’s not so much that you fight to always be right, feel safe, look good or feel good.  It’s the lengths that we will go to to NOT experience that situation.  For example,

  1. The person who always wants to be right will go to great lengths to not be wrong!  Sometimes, holding on to a false belief, even though he knows he is wrong.
  2. The person who wants to feel safe will cling to the metaphorical security blanket, even though she knows that it is not safe in the long run.
  3. The person who wants to look good will do just about anything to not look bad in front of others.
  4. The person who wants to feel good will tolerate some pretty bad situations just so he doesn’t have to feel bad in the short run.  For example, an employer who won’t coach, counsel or even de-hire a poor performer because that process will make them feel bad – even though he knows it’s best in the long term.

When you look at it from the inverted point of view, it makes sense of some non-sensical behavior!


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KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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