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Want to Motivate People? Want to Be More Effective? Try This!
By Susan Dunn

"Motivation is not a thinking word," say John P. Kotter and Dan S. Cohen, in their book, "The Heart of Change."

They go on to say:

"Analysis has three major limitations.

First, in a remarkable number of cases, you don't need it to find the big truths.


Second, analytical tools have their limitations in a turbulent world. These tools work best when parameters are known, assumptions are minimal, and the future is not fuzzy.


Third, good analysis rarely motivates people in a big way. It changes thought, but how often does it send people running out the door to act in significantly new ways?"

More every day, we see the need for emotional intelligence in the business world. Our thinking can only take us so far. We can gather data to rationalize our decisions, but often we're better off using our intuition.

Yes, you must be analytical about choosing your new computer or phone system, but when it comes to trying to figure out why Allen's team is failing, when you know in your gut, it's Allen, isn't productive. It doesn't provide any more information that you already know.

And no amount of intellectual arguing is going to change someone at their core and motivate action or change. You have to reach in and touch their emotions. You have to find out what's important to someone, and you have to model what's important to you - at the feelings level.


Kotter and Cohen give a marvelous example of this. A CEO takes a client out for dinner and listens to him talk about his disappointment with a product that, supposedly built to specifications, keeps being delivered defectively. "We ask again and again for things to be changed," says the unhappy customer, "and the person we talk to nods his head but he doesn't seem to listen."

What the CEO does is send a video team over to the customer's office the next day and ask him to speak candidly, which he does, and then he shows the video to his employees, many of whom had never interfaced with customers, and never experienced this sort of "strong, negative feedback."


I saw this happen repeatedly in my days in non-profits when I raised money for the homeless. I spoke all over town on homelessness and encountered all sorts of reactions, including "Why don't they just get a job?"

If I could convince the person to actually come down to the shelter and meet "the homeless," things changed. It changes your mind to sit in the same room, face-to-face with someone who was previously just a statistic. It's impossible to retort, "Why don't you just get a job?" when you listen to a mother with 3 children tell how she can't make as much money at her minimum-wage job as she can on welfare, and while she'd rather have 'a decent job like everyone else,' the numbers don't add up.

Why doesn't she "just get a job?" Because she can live better on welfare. You begin to see the complexity of the problem. She may be "homeless" but she isn't stupid.

You see a man with 4 children and no wife, who hasn't a suit, washing machine, computer, fax machine or answering machine to take calls while he's out looking for a job, and you begin to see the complexity of the problem. "Why doesn't he just get a job?" becomes "How could he get a job?"


I could talk till I was blue in the face about "homelessness," and not have any impact, while 30 minutes in a homeless shelter, seeing real people, seeing a "face" instead of "a problem," reached in and touched people at their core. There's no place for "cold logic" in a homeless shelter. It assaults your heart, and therefore it assaults your brain.


Emotions have a stronger impact, because they're essential to our survival. We don't need to know a whole lot about the bear that's standing in front of us snarling; in fact if we DO stop to think, our life will be at risk, so our brain pumps us full of "fight or flight" chemicals which preclude thinking and cause us to TAKE ACTION.


In conducting tours of the homeless shelter, just the act was my main objective. I knew that the reality of a face-to-face encounter would accomplish what I couldn't, and eventually didn't even try, to do. Motivation is real when it comes from the heart. Whatever the person decided to do after touring the shelter, was between them and their heart.

The outcome was always a new understanding of a situation that had previously existed as "cold facts" in their head. The changed behaviors it elicited were different-some decided to volunteer, some sent a check, some went back to organize others, but all were touched.

It never failed to touch me to go over there, and that showed too.

People's general reaction changed from "there's a problem," to "what can I do?' And each individual, moved from his or her armchair in front of tv to the reality of the problem, as represented by real human beings, decided that there was something THEY could do. They decided they wanted to make a difference.

I used it to motivate myself as well. Sitting over in my office, overwhelmed by the workload and the enormity of a problem for which there is no solution except day-by-day, one-by-one, I was often discouraged. A trip over to the shelter was always the antidote to my flagging energy.


The Archbishop of San Antonio often spoke at our fund-raising banquets. He always began by giving a specific example of a specific person in a specific encounter. He put a face to a "problem," touched people at the feelings level, and caused change.

Motivation is not a thinking word.

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Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, offers positive psychology coaching and Internet courses in emotional intelligence, optimism, strengths and resilience. She has EQ products available for licensing for individuals and businesses. She is the author of numerous ebooks, is widely published on the Internet, and a regular speaker for cruise lines.

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