Advanced Business Writing
Influence and Persuasion

Motivation Source

Let's say you write with no errors. And your style is clear and easy to read. In school that was often enough, because you usually had only to prove to your teacher that you got the right answer.

Now you're at work, and you have to convince your boss that your conclusion is the best conclusion: for your boss, for your division, and for the continued economic viability of your employer. Even more, you have to motivate your boss to act. A lot is on the line. Being persuasive counts.

To persuade readers, you must first gain their trust. A subtle but effective way to do this is to speak their language: use words and phrases that match their personality. One of the more important personality traits is the source of their motivation. People are usually motivated in one of two ways: they rely on themselves or they defer to others.

For those who Rely on Themselves, we can say the source of their motivation is internal.

Phrases they use include:

I know, it's up to me, I'll gather information and then decide, I'll try it out and see what I think, I know when I have done well

For those who Defer to Others, we can say the source of their motivation is external.

Words they use include:

experts say, others recommend, studies show, these references, they should tell us, well respected, their feedback tells me

You can use this technique every day at work as you communicate with your coworkers. You may be surprised at how differently and quickly people respond when you use their language.

Note: This technique doesn't work on everyone. About 20% of people are motivated in both directions equally. Good luck with that.

So how do we put this theory into practice? Use a simple sequence of three steps:

    1. Listen to their words.
    2. Identify their personality.
    3. Speak their language.

This is both art and science, and mastery can only be obtained with persistent attention, careful study, and unavoidable trial and error.

Consider an example:

Imagine you are in charge of the public website for the government of your province. Your team has worked hard on an update to the website and needs a decision about promoting that update.

An outsider was recently hired as the CIO for the government. He wrote an email to all IT employees, explaining his hopes and expectations. Here is part of that email:

Industry experts have proven that the most effective IT teams support the departments that serve customers, not just as back-office support staff, but as partners with these departments. If we do this well, citizens will be served in the manner they have come to expect. I plan to lead our efforts not only in technology development but in contributing to the business processes that departments must develop to serve the public better. Surveys and studies of other provincial IT departments show that this is the future of effective IT departments.

From the underlined words and phrases, it appears the source of his motivation is external, he defers to others. He respects and trusts in the advice of those who have carefully observed what works well in the industry.

You write an email to the CIO and include the following list:

  • The department of business licensing requested immediate promotion of the update.
  • Best practices were used to make navigating the website logical and helpful.
  • Customer test groups loved the new design.

You deliberately chose and placed the words (shown in bold) to "speak to" his external motivation. The result will be an approval of your request as well as an immediate bump in pay for you. (fingers crossed)

Question: Isn't this "speak their language" kind of manipulative?

Answer: If you're going over to the dark side, yes. If you're writing to accomplish something good for your employer, no. Consider what you do when you vacation among people who don't speak your language. How do you think they really feel when you at least try to speak their language? This technique is subtle and usually undetectable, but when it is used with respect and restraint, it's appreciated by your readers.

Lesson: Motivation Source
Module: Influence and Persuasion
Course: Advanced Business Writing