The “workplace” is often fraught with unspoken, or sometimes very loudly spoken, tension. It’s rare – and precious – that one finds a cohesive team environment, with good leadership, that is at once productive and fun to be in. Most businesses operate under the assumption that “people are professionals and we hire professional people”, therefore there’s no problem: people will get on with it. But the fact remains that the lived experience of the majority of employees is precisely the opposite of this. We find certain people are unbearable to work with, and we don’t understand the causes, we just feel it; this friction causes untold problems for the operational efficiency and creativity.
Well, a simplistic answer might be that we, as human mammals, are social and emotional creatures. Therefore, it’s inevitable that in large groups, there will be conflicts and disagreements between different “factions”. However, this is partly missing the point. It’s not what we all share that causes these conflicts. Nor is it what makes us different externally – except in the case of extremely prejudiced outliers. No, more often than not, it is something deeper and more internal that causes these rifts, something that is rarely truthfully acknowledged at the workplace: our motivations.
When I say motivation, I am not referring to “ra ra” motivation: pep talks, quarterly financial goals, quirky bonus packages. I am referring to a deeper constructed value system that we all possess, but often don’t know even ourselves. It has been my “mission from God”, to quote the Blues Brothers, over the last 13 years to measure and accurately quantify these internal motivators. The results have been startling, and one of the best outcomes of discovering these internal drivers, is the resolution of workplace tensions and conflicts.
Let me start by laying out the basics. There are nine motivators within each of us. Each of them sits above the level of survival. In other words, once we get beyond food, shelter, warmth, water, etc, we begin to move on to these nine “secondary” motivators. But of course, to call them “secondary” is to undermine their power. These motivators are extremely powerful, and trying to go against them can have disastrous impact on our mental health and wellbeing, our energy levels, and our self esteem. But more on that later.
I should point out very clearly that this is not a psychometric system. You are not x motivator or y motivator, fixed, forever. Your motivators change over time as you grow and develop. In addition, we all have all nine motivators, but we simply have them in a priority order. For example, my number one motivator is Creator. It’s not my only motivator, but it’s my most powerful and tends to trump the others. Therefore, it’s often my most important, motivator. What does this mean? Well, it doesn’t just mean that I like to create things (most people could probably tell that about me anyway). It also means that I (a) am risk-friendly (b) am future-orientated & (c) results, not efficiency, driven (d) that I prioritise personal growth over achievements or even relationships. Now, these are not hard and fast rules, because as I said, a profile is made up of the nine motivators in order, and these can produce incredible combinations that actually reflect the nuance and complexity of the human interior. However, even this surface level single-motivator insight gives us a pretty strong idea of what drives me and how to make me happy. You see, understanding your motivators, whatreally drives you, provides a shared language to talk about our desires and wants in a work-appropriate way.
So, returning to the concept of conflict-resolution… how does this help? Well, when we understand the motivators more clearly, we not only understand ourselves better, but we understand other people and their motivations. Certain motivators are opposed, or seemingly so. For example, the Defender motivator values security and regularity. They are risk-averse. They are past orientated. They prioritise relationships over everything else. And they are efficiency over results, process over productivity. The Defender naturally conflicts with the Creator’s desire to change things and take risks to develop new ideas or methodologies. However, when both parties are aware of the motivations of the other, it leads to the first step in the process of breaking down these barriers. It also gives people a non-personal, non-accusatory language to speak about their differences. For example: The Creator might be very frustrated that the Defender is always squashing / throwing out their ideas. However, if the Creator knows that person is a Defender, they can approach them in a different way: “Hey, I know that we need to be careful and not take too many risks, but if this idea works, it could actually yield us more financial security.” Or, the other way around, the Defender could approach the Creator: “Hey, I know that you’re a really creative person, but right now, the R&D budget is getting tighter and tighter, so maybe we should explore some options together that we know will get approved before committing to further development?”
This is only the beginning, the “tip of the iceberg” as it were. But it shows clearly that conflicts in the workplace are almost never about the decisions or situations themselves, they are about the underlying value system that is derived from our motivation. When our key motivators are blocked, we can become very de-motivated and unhappy very quickly. If we are Creator motivators working in an accountancy firm, for example, that will be a very tough environment to thrive in, because our creativity will constantly be being checked and limited. Similarly, a Defender motivator is unlikely to have much joy in a risky tech-start up!
So, how can you discover your motivators? Well, we have a tool, the Motivational Map, which allows you to discover your motivators with pin-point accuracy. But, you can also discover it yourself, or get close to it, by doing a few simple exercises. I have created a nine-part blog series Unlocking Motivation, to help take you through this process. It’s completely free, and will tell you a hell of a lot about the Maps and what they’re all about. To get started, you can go to part 1 here.
Alternatively, for a deeper dive into the language and metrics of motivation, as well as a Motivational Map code, you can buy Mapping Motivation: Unlocking The Key to Employee Energy and Engagement.