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Three Basic Motivations

 

Explanations > Motivation > Three Basic Motivations

Functional | Emotional | Ideological | So what?

 

What drives us? It is a deep question with many complex answers. Yet we can also understand this in simple ways, looking through the lens of simple models. So here is a way to look at motives as a simple set of three. Note that few people think along only one of these dimensions, although we often do have a preference for one and so are more likely to be persuaded by arguments that play to such a style of thinking.

Functional

Functional motives just that, serving a simple, utilitarian purpose. Much of what we do is functional as we pursue planned goals. This is typical of activities at work as we carry out allocated tasks. We do functional tasks at home, too, when we do the shopping and clean the house.

Functional thinking is logical. It has clear outcomes so you know whether you have succeeded or not. It may well produce plans that break down work, allocating sub-tasks to individuals that must be completed by a certain time, perhaps even directing methods and tools to be used. Other functional motives are less structured, flexibly allowing any method, so long as the the outcome is achieved.

To persuade someone who is thinking functionally, first find out what they are trying to achieve. Then show them how you can help them with this, or at least reassure them that you will not hold them up. When they see reason in your arguments, then they will be more open to accepting your ideas.

Emotional

Emotional motivation is very different from functional motivation. When you are driven by your emotions, you may be highly irrational and will change course as the feelings take you. Arguments, for example, may start out reasonably friendly but can become passionate and even angry.

When emotions are aroused, reason goes out of the window. Paradoxically, even when people are thinking emotionally, they may still try to reason, though their arguments will often lack logical coherence. As well as arguing emotionally, we think emotionally too, convincing ourselves easily that we are right and others are bad or incompetent.

In many ways we are very largely emotionally driven as our mammalian mid-brain takes over, casually kicking the superior cortex into the corner. Even when we think logically, the final decision is often emotional as we go with the choice that feels right.

To persuade an emotional thinker, do not just counter with logic. You may indeed be perfectly right, but you will be unlikely to change their mind. Better is to first empathize with them. Be interested in their thoughts and then. Only when they seem to like you may you then, very carefully, start nudging then in the right direction. This can be done calmly. It can also be very effective when spoken passionately.

Ideological

A third way we are driven is through beliefs. In particular when we subscribe to a particular ideology (or even a set of ideologies), this can very significant in influencing our choices. Typical ideologies include religion, politics, science, capitalism, group culture, and social norms.

Beliefs are assumed truths. In ideologies, we accept beliefs so completely, we often do not realize these are beliefs, as opposed to absolute truths (and if you find yourself unhappy about this, you are probably proving the point). The strongest beliefs are called 'sacred beliefs' and are so deeply embedded they are taken as obvious truth.

Persuading ideologues is perhaps hardest of all. Questioning sacred beliefs is seem as demonic, perverse and proof of evil that demands aggressive denouncement. Understanding such beliefs is consequently essential and avoiding challenging them a good idea. Rather, you might try to use these to your advantage or nudge less deeply held beliefs. A good idea is to watch how they persuade and use similar structures.

So what?

Observe and test people along each of these three dimensions, to determine the extent to which they are functionally, emotionally or ideologically driven. Then customize your communications to contain an equivalent proportion of each.

See also

Beliefs, Types of Reasoning, Emotions

 

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