Another piece of research gives us a clue as to what benefits of change we should describe to clients—or what advantages of making changes we can draw forth from them by questioning—to persuade them to listen, and to act. From a news release issued by University of Michigan:
A new University of Michigan study finds that the most convincing exercise message emphasizes immediate benefits that enhance daily quality of life.
"Promoting exercise for health is logical, but people's daily decisions are more often connected to emotion than logic," [Michelle] Segar said. "A more effective 'hook' is to rebrand exercise to emphasize the immediate benefits that enrich daily living, such as stress reduction and increased vitality."
"By shifting our model from medicine to marketing, we can improve how we 'sell' exercise to the public by using principles like branding," Segar said.
In this specific example, stress reduction will motivate some people; increased vitality will be most persuasive to others. In general, we are going to be much more effective in working with clients (not to mention friends and family) if we know what motivates whom. To be aware of what motivates people can make collaboration and persuasion, and marketing and selling, much easier.
Many different bodies of information tell us that we are not monolithic in what gets us to act. For example, Shelle Rose Charvet in Words That Change Minds talks about people being either "away from" (moving away from problems) or "toward" (moving toward goals). Research
And I am sure the focus is situational; I may be "toward" when writing my business plan for 2012, but "away from" when choosing my lunchtime meal.
Regulatory Focus Theory is related. It is essentially the same thing as what Charvet asserts, but the research has likely been more rigorous. The theory describes two kinds of motivation and focus:
- Promotion-The focus is "on hopes and accomplishments, also known as gains" and advancement
- Prevention-The focus is "on safety and responsibilities, also known as non-losses [and] ...emphasizes security and safety by following the guidelines and the rules"
When we are communicating one-on-one with people, we do not have to guess their motivation preference. Once we understand regulatory focus, we can talk with a person and, by asking the right questions, learn what motivates him or her. This is why sales systems that are based on questions instead of stock and standard pitches are likely more effective.
The best salespeople, not to mention negotiators and mediators, are masters of the question. They can improvise and adapt and shift their questions according to what is said by the people with whom they are communicating. And they probably at least intuitively understand a couple of systems of motivation such as Regulatory Focus Theory so they can help clients to gain clarity on what they really want.
Note (added November 8, 2011): A related post: "Nurturance or Protection: Understanding the Motivations of Intimate Partners in Conflict" (International Center for Cooperation & Conflict Resolution at Columbia University). Click to read research article abstract (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).