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Motivation > Interest

Interest is felt | Interest is selfish | So what?


When we are inferring meaning, and we find something that affects our needs and goals, then our interest is stimulated. Interest then guides our attention. We look more and further into things that interest us.

Interest is felt

Think of a time when your interest was piqued, when you saw something that absolutely fascinated you. Notice how you felt.

Bodily sensations

Chances are, you experienced bodily sensations of some kind. There may have been a powerful tingling  shooting up your spine. Your might have had a hot flush rushing up you neck and around  your face. You toes or fingers may have twitched at the prospect to  come.

The wake-up from the brain

Interest is very much a felt sensation. The psychological term is 'arousal' (which means the body reaches a state of heightened sensitivity). It is the brain's way of preparing the body for action. It happens as biochemical wake-up call to your muscles and senses. It says 'pay attention!'

Spot the signs!

When the other person is feeling something, there are likely to be visible signs, such as skin color changes and different facial expressions. 

Watch out for these signals, especially after you have done or said something that is intended to stimulate their interest. You can also discover their interests by observing them in everyday action. 

Interest is selfish

In what are people interested? Are they interested in your problems or products? Are they interested in hearing you talk? No, not really.

What about their interests in being nice to other people and saving the environment? These, too, can be traced back to things like being nice to others so they will be nice back, and saving the environment so you and your descendents will survive. 

Biologist Richard Dawkins, in 'The Selfish Gene', explained how, at the most fundamental levels, we are simply machines for propagating our genes, and all our actions can be explained in this light. 

Interests are in achieving goals

If I have decided that I want to buy a new car, then a car salesman has my attention. If I have just bought one, then they have no chance of selling me another and I am not interested.

If you want to persuade someone to do something, then it helps a great deal if you can find out what they need, want or like.

Interests are in avoiding suffering

We can have positive goals and we can also have negative goals, where we seek to avoid bad things. The degree to which people will choose one over another is affected by the attraction vs. avoidance or risk preferences they have.

Bad stuff is usually more important and thus of greater immediate interest than good stuff. If you were  in a bank and a robber came in, then most people would lie on the floor rather than tackle the man with the gun--discretion usually being the better part of valor.

Interests are in stimulating pleasure

What we often consider as interest is stimulation of the pleasure zones in the brain. If I am interested in going to the movies, it is because all movies, as all entertainments, are designed just to cause that pleasure.

This is a broad and general class of positive goals, where we are not particularly furthering our selves in life, rather the goals are about relaxation and the general seeking of immediate pleasures.

Many people drift through life with few driving goals. They accept the pleasures that fall in their path and try to avoid less pleasant things (which often include the uncomfortable truth). 

Interests are relative

While we may be interested in many things, what we call our 'interests' stand out. What makes a subject an interest as compared to another subject which is not an interest, is the greater relative arousal that the interest creates.

So what?

To work with and address the other person's interests, you have to first find them.

Find out their interests by asking questions and watching for the visible signals. Look for the WIIFM factor. Also find their priorities amongst interests and their preferences for avoiding pain vs. seeking pleasure.

You now have a list of their hot and cold buttons, which you can press deliberately for desired effects. Pressing buttons accidentally is a great way of turning a potential convert into a certain antagonist. 

Interests are visible

When the other person is feeling something, there are likely to be visible signs, such as skin color changes and different facial expressions. 

Watch out for these signals, especially after you have done or said something that is intended to stimulate their interest. You can also discover their interests by observing them in everyday action. 

Interests are not positions

In negotiation, people often take fixed positions and defend them like castles, building logical and emotional fortifications behind which they hide and shoot down on all apparent assailants.

When two people or parties do this, you have a long battle of attrition, with the victor having a hollow victory, with the vanquished other person complying only because they have been beaten, and not because they are really enthused.

Taking a 'position' is clearly not the solution. The real solution is to find out the interests behind the position and then find other ways of addressing those interests.

Seek the goals

When people take positions or their interest are unclear, ask what they are trying to achieve with those positions. Assume that they have goals which are valid and real, at least for them (and if they have not thought about it, for their subconscious).

Beware of coldly asking 'why'--you don't want to sound like the Spanish Inquisition. Gentle probing is usually a much more effective method.

See also

Fisher and Ury (1981)


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