Two Motivators: Compliance Versus Commitment

Are you stuck in business relationships in which you’re required to use fear as a motivator? If so, you will be interested in the communication technique, promise and request.

There are many different kinds of conversations between people. Some examples are conversations for fun, description and action. Conversation for action can also be called promise and request. It is a template for communication that creates action with the people around you and with yourself.

To understand promise and request it’s helpful to begin with the notion of compliance versus commitment. There are a lot of places in our lives where we are compliant; generally speaking we are compliant because we don’t want to suffer negative consequences. For example, we go along with traffic regulations not out of a huge commitment for the safety of the world, but because we don’t want to get a ticket.

If you’re working with a group of people, the problem with motivating them out of compliance is that this is a fear-based motivation. People comply because they don’t want negative consequences such as loss of job, responsibilities or pay raises. Psychological studies show that fear is a short-term motivator. You have to continue reinforcing the fact that something negative is going to happen if employees don’t tow the line.

Is it necessary to manage employees this way? Sometimes, yes. But it requires micromanagement and a lot of effort. Operating out of commitment, on the other hand, takes place when people take ownership of the end result. Again, they have something at stake, but their motivation isn’t fear. This management style takes less effort and the results are ten times greater.

Suppose I’ve just been hired as a manager of a sales division and my manager informs me that I need a 20% sales increase this year. This increase is unprecedented, and I leave his office excited because this proposal requires operating out of possibility instead of probability. But how am I going to get a team of people to operate out of the same possibility? How will I motivate people who are used to working out of compliance to operate out of commitment? That’s where the language of action comes in.

In upcoming newsletters we’ll discuss the elements of this language of action: conversation for agreement, request, promise and follow-up.

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