Difference between Motivation and Manipulation

September 13, 2018 Open Leadership No Comments

Motivation originates in the heart of the motivated. All the rest is manipulation.

The human psyche is not a box of building blocks. On the contrary.

It is a hugely complex ‘organ’ that is, in addition, constantly moving. We are only partly aware of this. That explains why it sometimes resembles a box of building blocks. Wrong. This becomes more important the more we are directed towards change.

Suppose: box of building blocks. Change is easy. E.g. you take one block out and replace it with another. No problem. Everything stays more or less well in control all the time. The box of blocks watches it happen and finds it okay, given that the new block holds a clear improvement compared to the previous.

Nevertheless, suppose: huge complexity. Every change is a change in various places at the same time.

Think of a plate of spaghetti. You pull one string here and other things change over there too. Now think of a co-worker (or yourself). You want him (or yourself) to behave differently, not only at this moment, but each time a particular situation happens. That means: you want to motivate towards different behavior. If you try to do this by pulling a string or by one or other plug & play change, then it seems to work a little at first sight. However, you meet a lot of resistance. Incredible! The change was meant for good, no? After a while, the change seems to have resulted in much smaller results than expected. Do people not want to? Are they lazy? Suspicious, conservative… or simply dumb? Or is the cause rather to be found in your attempts to ‘motivate’?

If you want to motivate someone and it doesn’t seem to work, then there is a fair chance that that person senses  your ‘motivation’ rather as manipulation.

Your attempt to motivation then possibly, absolutely or relatively, starts from the idea of a box of blocks. Of course the other one feels neglected in his complexity (i.e. what it’s all about) by this. That’s worse than nothing. Active neglect – even if it may not be so but is felt as such – leads to active resistance. The child that under-performs in class and keeps being told “Don’t be so lazy”. The co-worker who has to listen to a motivational speech (not urged by you, I hope) with the idea that his will boost the figures… I think it can be put bluntly: everything that is meant to be ‘motivation’ but is felt differently, is manipulation and demotivation. Risking a vicious circle: demotivation that leads to an attempt to even more ‘motivation’. In the end the child becomes lazier and lazier. The employee (or you) gets a burnout. So, beware.

As long as the groove in the vicious circle is made deeper, it is difficult to get out of the circle.

… without a radical change of oneself and how things are handled. Tricky, because ‘something else’ is often the same but in disguise. The radical change in connection with the topic of this text has to do with box of blocks versus complexity. A different perspective of eventually the same is: ‘respect for the total person’. This respect also implies depth. Otherwise the total person cannot be reached. This is also the big difference with the rather dowdy ‘respect’ based on authority, with which many people even today still have bad experiences. ‘Respect for the total person’ is completely different. In essence it even looks like – difficult word or not? – ‘love’. In professional contexts this word seems less suited. So be it. It does make the difference. Without deep respect, motivation will always be a form of manipulation. With all due consequences. A leader without deep respect is a dictator. “History shows the rest.” Not only history from books. Also the one from daily practice of management.

This may provoke some modesty. Deep respect is indeed a high ideal.

Fortunately we are all humans in a human setting. That’s why a doctor is not ‘God’. A leader is neither. Modesty has the advantage that ‘the wall of ego’ does not stand in the way, so that one can see the other one properly for what he is. Instead of the projection of oneself on the wall of oneself. Utterly important! Modesty of own ego may well be one of the most difficult things to achieve, but it is an important quality in a leader.

Modesty of own ego is a necessary ingredient in what makes the difference between manipulation versus motivation, the basis of all co-operation.

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