Use Self-Determination Theory to Motivate Others

You probably know what it means to have a bad boss. You may even know what it feels like to be one of them . Of course, at work (and if in life) no one likes a micromanager , but a boss who can’t take care of actually leading a team or meeting his direct reports is just as bad.

Whether you’re managing people at work or just managing your relationship, you don’t need to fall into one of these two pitfalls. You can take a few notes from the field of psychology and create an environment that allows people who turn to you for guidance and support to thrive with a little help from self-determination theory.

What is the theory of self-determination?

Self-determination theory (SDT) was first proposed and popularized by psychologists Edward L. Decy and Richard M. Ryan, who studied the science of human motivation in the 1970s and 1980s. Basically, they determined that people are inherently inclined towards personal growth – whether it means achieving a goal, receiving a reward, or mastering a skill – and there are three motivating principles that can encourage, facilitate, or inspire them to make this happen.

As noted by talent acquisition company GQR , these pillars of self-determination theory include:

Competence is the need to perceive our behavior as effectively implemented (in order to feel that we did a good job).

Autonomy is the need to perceive behavior as voluntary and “… reflexively confirming itself” (in order to feel that we are in control of what we are doing).

Connectedness – the need to “… interact, be in touch, and care for others” (have meaningful relationships and interactions with others).

Or, in other words, the theory claims that our inner drive for progress can be supported by external factors. This is how theAmerican Psychological Association defines the process:

Self-determination theory indicates that intrinsic motivation (to do something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable) and therefore better learning thrives in contexts that satisfy human needs for competence, autonomy, and connection.

Many studies have shown positive results in increasing competence, autonomy and connection in educational and work environments. It takes some understanding and effort, but it is something that executives can use to get the most out of their employees, or something that anyone can use to help their friends, family, and colleagues succeed.

How to use SDT to help others

Think of SDT fundamentals as landmarks. While everyone develops their own management or motivation styles over time and experience, SDT can help you form more caring, but not lasting, relationships.

Management consultant Amy Drader explains to Growth Partners how a person in a leadership position can take advantage of the SDT. If you give positive feedback when it deserves, you create an incentive for someone to keep doing what they do, provided they do it well. Goal setting is another useful indicator for stimulating motivation, especially when goals are marked after they have been achieved. Of course, focusing too much on achieving goals can undermine motivation and dull the creative spark, but creating tangible and achievable rewards can further fuel motivation.

It is important for a person in a leadership position (whether in a formal setting or not) to develop a sense of intimacy – and one way to do this, Dreider writes, is to normalize the complaint. Of course, don’t encourage felting, but be aware that flushing can be a laxative. She notes: “Give time to complain. Make sure it doesn’t get overwhelmed. Some complaints might be helpful. ” In practical terms, it can feel like happy hour when you empathize with certain issues in the workplace. Or just talking and joking with people in your professional area from time to time will be attractive and further promote the idea of ​​kinship.

At another level, autonomy can be cultivated in several ways, namely when workers are listened to (and allowed to solve problems on their own). As Desi and Ryan wrote back in 1987 , “[t] the main emphasis of autonomy is on the need for people to be strong-willed and to initiate their own actions, rather than to be controlled and controlled by others.” You can further ignite this fire by showing a sense of trust in those you are trying to motivate. At work, empower someone you want to support by making them responsible for a larger project they may not have been willing to take on, and shower them with praise – privately and in front of others – when it does. will be done. In addition to work, this can include assigning a child or family member an important household task, providing guidance and support in their work to get it done, and creatively rewarding them after the work is done, even if it may not have been done perfectly.

Fostering a sense of trust, camaraderie, and appreciation is not about a secret formula, but about a set of human qualities that should serve you well in and outside the workplace.


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