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November 12, 2019

What's Your Motive? - #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie

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"Discard every self-seeking motive as soon as it is seen, and you need not search for truth; truth will find you."

Nisargadatta Maharaj, Hindu guru

About This Week's Chat

Think about your values for a moment – the core reasons why you do what you do. Do those values guide your behavior at work? Or do other motives and needs sometimes take control?

And, whatever the real reasons are for your behavior, how are your motives viewed by others?

Last week's #MTtalk Twitter chat was about understanding why you do and say certain things, and what your behavior tells others about the values that you hold.

What's Your Motive?

It's important to question your motivation from time to time – because you can be sure that the people around you are analyzing it, too! The factors influencing your decisions and actions may not be written on your face. But the people you live and work with will get a good idea of them – or think they do, at least – from the way you behave.

Asking "Why?"

I found myself questioning someone's motives a few years ago, when I was facilitating training at a large organization.

The training was intense, and it was crucial that everybody kept up. During one of the sessions, we had to work through a difficult case study. There was deep concentration in the room.

Halfway through my explanation, the door suddenly burst open. A man thrust his head into the room and said, cheerily, "Hi everybody! I was walking past and I thought I'd wish you a fantastic day! Bye!" And with that he was gone again.

I was nonplussed. I had no idea who he was, or why he did what he did. When I asked the delegates if they knew him, some replied that he worked in their department, a few blocks away. "Greeting Guy" must have been in the main building for some other reason, and decided it would be a good idea to say "Hi" to his colleagues. Which, of course, it wasn't – it was a terrible one.

As friendly and enthusiastic as the man was, he'd intruded at a critical moment. It took a while to get everybody's attention again and refocus.

When I'd overcome my initial annoyance, I told myself that the man's intent was likely good.

But then one of his colleagues suggested that he may have had an ulterior motive – based on a need for attention. And the more I thought about it, the more I found myself questioning his values.

If he'd really wanted to do something nice for his colleagues, and had respect for their training time, surely he'd have waited until the break to say hello – or just given them space to do what they had to do.

Yes, he could have accidentally given us the wrong impression about his motives. But it felt much more probable that his behavior had made his true values all too clear.

What's Your "Why?"

It pays to think carefully about your motives, and how they'll be perceived.

If you're offering help, for example, are you doing so out of generosity and care. Or are you trying to manipulate the situation in some way? And, whatever your true motive is, how will your "helping" look to others?

This kind of self-analysis can be tough, and the findings hard to take.

Maybe you realize that you're burning to tell your story not to add to the conversation, but to one-up your peers.

Perhaps you discover that your habit of sharing gossip is less about building relationships, and more about making yourself look important.

And if you play "the blame game," or criticize colleagues behind their back, it is really because you "care about the company"? Or, has envy crept into your attitude, and self-promotion become your motive?

Think Before You Do

In my experience, it's always a good idea to be mindful of your motives. Whenever I can, I try to pause, and ask myself questions such as:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • Is it really for the good of others, or just to fulfill a selfish need?
  • Will it solve a problem?
  • Will it improve relationships?
  • Is there a better way to go about it?
  • Might it be best not to do it at all?

Defining Your Motives

During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last week, we discussed why we do what we do. Here are the questions we asked and some of the responses:

Q1. What drives you to do what you do?

@Midgie_MT My motives vary yet all are underpinned by the desire to make a positive difference to those I come into contact with.

@Mphete_Kwetli Adding value to me and to be helpful to my surrounding community.

Q2. How varied are your motives for different tasks/projects/actions? Why?

@BrainBlenderTec They are as varied as the tasks because you have a different feeling towards each.

@yehiadief The main point is to find a solution.

Q3. How do you know what your motives are?

@J_Stephens_CPA I have to wonder what my motives are sometimes too – are they really selfish instead of for the better purpose? So examining after the day helps, but I need to get back to journaling that.

@Ganesh_Sabari Realisation achieved through introspection throws light on one's motives.

Q4. In what situations do you find you have selfless motives?

@Limha75 When someone else is in difficulty or feeling upset.

@kkopacz1 One can never escape that feeling of satisfaction one gets when helping others, but when that feeling is acknowledged we can consider it a selfless act. Assuming that ultimately the person who commits that act gains nothing material in the end.

Q5. In what situations do you find you have selfish motives?

@JKatzaman Selfish motives dominate when it's all about the holy trinity: me, myself and I.

@MapDorcas This is the part where you lose respect for me. My selfish motives are: in rush hour situations, I'll inhale deeply, squeeze into any little space and get onto that train or tube. Gotta get to work!

(We love the honesty, Dorcas, and we're often in the same boat!)

Q6. What type of behavior/situation will make you question a colleague's motives?

@PmTwee When we have a common goal, and someone's motive is against or diverting from the goal, I will always question his intention.

@Mphete_Kwetli When it's all about proving a point and not about providing value to the community.

Q7. What motives would you like to have for acting/not acting in certain ways?

@BrainBlenderTec I think purity of action. If you are doing something for the benefit of another even if they never know. That is [the] motive I strive for, but I found someone is always watching.

@MicheleDD_MT Recognition for achievement. It can lead you to act impulsively.

Q8. What motives do you suspect you might actually have?

@Yolande_MT I've realized that "zeal without wisdom" can sometimes do more harm than good. Am I going about my primary motives with wisdom?

@CaptRajeshwar To keep my team safe. To grow more to eat for humanity. To share knowledge in whatever way you can.

Q9. Is it possible to change your motives or can you only change your behavior?

@harrisonia You can change both your motives (WHY you're doing it) and behavior (WHAT you're doing) after an honest personal assessment.

@GThakore Behaviours get altered according to motives.

Q10. What will you do to act more consciously and honestly in the future?

@SayItForwardNow Be AWARE of why I am doing what I am doing, and keep LOVE and COMPASSION at the center of all of my choices.

@Limha75 Think about what it's like to be on the receiving end of me. Learned this idea from @Illingworth_S's MSc learning and it lodged in my noggin.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat here.

Coming Up

When you realize that someone's motives aren't pure, do you try to fix the situation? Or when you notice that something in the office needs attention, are you the first one to make sure that it gets done?

The topic of our next #MTtalk chat is, “Do You Have Fixer Syndrome?” In our Twitter poll this week, we'd like to know what you're most likely to fix when you encounter it. Please cast your vote here.


In the meantime, here are some resources relating to the topic we discussed this time:

McClelland's Human Motivation Theory

Random Acts of Kindness

Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Working in a Highly Political Organization

Avoiding Unconscious Bias at Work

Developing Self-Awareness

Beware the "Cheater's High"!


How to Preserve Your Integrity

Coaching to Explore Beliefs and Motives

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