Tuning to What Makes Them Tick


Differences in what I value–what motivates me–and what you value can lead to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and conflict.

Luckily there are only six things that motivate any of us.

  • Theoretical: Life will be better when we pause to understand before acting.
  • Utilitarian: Life will be better when we set goals, take practical steps to get there, and measure ourselves along the way.
  • Aesthetic: Life will be better when we drink in the beauty of life and design everything for enjoyment.
  • Social: Life will be better when we realize we are all in this together and we choose to help each other out.
  • Individualism: Life will be better when we coordinate and consolidate our power with strong leadership.
  • Traditional: Life will be better when we find, live by, and encourage others to live by the same, time-tested views, truths, and approaches.

Typically, we rank our motivators from most to least important. Two of the six will drive us all of the time, another two will only occasionally motivate us, and the last two we will be indifferent or negative to.

We can use motivators to influence each other better. We tend to present our observations, requests, and ideas in terms of our own motivators. By learning the other person’s motivators, we can better engage and influence them by tuning what we say to the motivator channels they are listening to.


In your corner,



PS: Example: Let’s say I have a utilitarian motivator and think that we should take a practical approach to solving a problem. I might say, “This is the quickest, cleanest solution.” If you have a strong social motivator, I would do well to show you how my suggestion works well for everyone.

PPS: You can discover another person’s motivators by asking questions that are similar to, “What do you want and why?” Example: “What would you like to get done in your job this year? And why is that?” Their answers will resonate with one or two of the motivators listed above.


Today’s photo credit: Mark J P via photopin cc

2 thoughts on “Tuning to What Makes Them Tick

  1. Story-tellers think of motivators as the desires that drive a hero/protagonist to overcome all the forces that oppose them. These are a small set of things, as you realise upon reflection, and are the fuel that drives a good story. Common ones are wealth (think of Jack and the Beanstalk), love (giving or getting), saving a life or lives (people, animals, whole nations), freedom (indiviual or collective)and possibly a few others. One thing about these motivators is that they’re universal, allowing us all to relate to them no matter what our background is. For example, falling in love in ancient China, on the doomed Titanic or in some post-apocalyptic future world is something accessible to all of us. So is striking it rich, particularly if the hero is poor and oppressed.

    I think a writer might think of today’s six ‘motivators’ as value systems. These are the approaches that individuals use to achieve their fundamental motivations. We’re definitely motivated by our values too, but we have deeper, more fundamental motives that are important to understand. Consider that we’ll actually trade (betray?) our values if we sense that doing so will be more effective in getting us to what deeply motivates us. Sometimes this results in triumph, sometimes tragedy!

    1. Hi Rob,

      What you say resonates with other aspects of the research on motivators.

      First, people can be “work” each motivator negatively or positively. Positive Social builds community. Negative Social creates dependency. Positive Individualism creates unified power in the group. Negative Individualism fosters temporary compliance and hatred.

      Second, people under stress will act against their motivators. Under stress, people with a high Theoretical drive will act from ignorance. High Traditionals will attack the foundations of their lives. High Socials will isolate themselves.

      I think the hero wrestles with these apparently conflicting signals. And, as you say, it leads sometimes to triumph, sometimes to tragedy


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