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On Sunday, I wrote this post about kindness and just in case you don’t want to go back and read it, let me tell you the gist of it.

I wrote about a man who can be like a bull in a china shop when pursuing his goals. And then, as if out of left field, can commit a random act of kindness by plugging ‘almost expired’  parking meters as he walks down the street.

Then along comes mrsfringe and comments, “Love your story, but I’d guess filling the meters has much to do with a sense of just/unjust.”  And by golly, I believe she’s right! Because I worked with him for many years, I know this man had worked his way to the top because he believed that he could make more of an impact on this world in a systemic way than he could by dealing with individuals on the floor. So what if you have to bowl over a few folks on the way if your end goal will create a better system, right?

Change the system and in the long-run you change the situation for all individuals.expired_parking_meter_small

Change the system and you create justice and equality.

And if you can’t change the system, buck the system by plugging almost expired, money-sucking, ‘when you know your meeting is an hour and they only let you pay for 30 minutes max and are counting on you to forget to come back and pay more’ therefore enabling them to issue a parking ticket, stupid parking meters.

That’ll teach the powers that be!

Ok so why does it make a difference whether he plugged the meters out of kindness or out of a sense of justice?

Whatever the reason, the people who were parked there were spared the cost of a $30 parking ticket and that’s all that mattered to them.

So why is understanding someone’s motivation important?

So glad you asked!

Understanding why someone does what they do is a great place to start in any relationship or collaboration. And sometimes, it can even relieve the stress that you are feeling from the actions of someone else.

For example, a few years back an organization that I worked for hired a company to help us understand our individual core personality traits and also create job personality profiles for our vacant positions. With this tool we would be able to hire people who were well-suited for specific jobs. The premise being that if you hire the right person the first time the organization wins by saving costs. And the employee wins because they are well-equipped to do the job and have a better chance of excelling.

All the leadership in our organization took the test and the owner of the consulting company (lets call him Bill)  reviewed the results with us as a group. I won’t get into how amazing and revealing these results were but suffice it to say it was a remarkable and eye-opening experience. When my profile was projected onto the wall for all to see, Bill pointed at me and said…

“You’re always asking questions! And when people answer them you ask more questions.

You are full of ideas and you are constantly voicing them.

Have you ever stopped to think about how that makes your staff feel?

I’ll tell you how they’re feeling…they’re thinking they have to scramble and implement all those ideas and there’s not enough time in the day to do that!”questions

He was right of course.

They thought I was questioning their work and time management.

They thought I was inferring that they weren’t measuring up to some impossible ideal.

They thought this because the only way they could ever imagine asking so many questions themselves is if they were concerned about how someone else was doing their job.

The reason I ask lots of questions is because I’m curious to know what my team thinks. I ask lots of questions because I want to understand things and I want to empower others to take ownership. And yes I have a lot of ideas that I toss out there. I do it for feedback – I honestly want to know if people think my ideas have merit. And if they do have merit I want to know if they think we have the resources to implement them. And because that’s how I think, I just presumed everyone would think that way and know that that was what I was doing.

So is knowing someone’s motivation for what they do important?

I think so. Sure those who benefited from their meters being topped up didn’t care about what motivated this man to do it. But understanding what motivates him was valuable to me because I worked with him day-in and day-out.

Knowing how my questions affect others is also helpful to me. Now when I am trying to understand a situation or want to throw ideas out into a room full of people, I start with a preamble that makes my motivation clear to those present.

Have you ever misjudged someone based on your perspective of what would motivate you to do what they are doing?

Or have you ever been misjudged based on someone else’s perspective of what would motivate them to do what you are doing?


What is your perspective!