fbpx Skip to main content

What motivates you to try harder, to continue for longer or just keep going? 

Is it hearing someone say to you, “Good job! – Here’s a promotion”?

Is it someone giving you a pat on the back with encouraging words such as “Keep It Up,” “Fantastic work”, “Well done”?

Or is it someone providing support by simply being there with you, observing and cheering silently from the sides?

What we find motivating is different for all of us depending on our personality, the type of work we are doing and who we are with.

My swimming coach Amanda has always been a huge inspiration for me to try harder. She is a warm, bubbly person who makes you feel good for just being there and always manages to find something positive to say about my efforts, and … she never yells!

Which is just as well because barking has never worked on me, it tends to make me resist attempting further progress (!), although I’m sure it can work for others.

The way we praise others is important, especially in a world where team effort counts for a lot and organisations are constantly looking for ways that will encourage their staff to work harder.

Professor Brendan Irwin from Kansas State University has done some fascinating research into this area, recently published as an interview in the Harvard Business Review

His findings revealed that in the area of physical training, it was the quiet coaches that produced better results in subjects practising “planking” with a 33% in improved performance to the more vocal drill Sergeant types of coach who got an improvement of 22%. So yelling does get results, but is that because of other factors such fear of the “stronger” coach or determination to improve so as to get away from all that shouting? Professor Irwin believes that if we perceive vocal coach as being superior then that does motivate us to try harder to improve.

Professor Irwin’s results showed that quiet encouragement and working with partners especially as part of a team, is what makes the biggest difference.

One of the best TED talks I have watched this year was Susan Cain talking about “The Power of Introverts.” Susan talks about why we should challenge our assumption about extroverts and introverts and not to underestimate the power of the quiet person in the room.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0KYU2j0TM4?feature=oembed&wmode=opaque&enablejsapi=1&w=854&h=480]


When someone dominates the conversation or meeting, it can be hard to hear the quieter voice down the back. And yes while it can be useful to have someone who is prepared to speak up and be involved with the conversation, it is important to manage their dominance and not deny the less dominant personalities a chance to pitch in with their piece. 

Have you ever noticed too, that it is sometimes the quietest person who may have the best idea if they are given the opportunity to be heard?

How does your workplace stack up with giving everyone an equal say?

How does your boss behave in this situation? Do they bark words of encouragement, or proffer quiet encouragement? Leadership is less about telling and more about listening. Our inspiration to follow a leader comes more from their behaviour, rather than their words. 

True, words can form powerful oratory but have you ever noticed it is the quiet leader that inspires you through their understanding of what you are all about, their relatedness to who you are, your needs and beliefs and demonstrates their values by their actions?

Dr Jason Fox is a motivation design expert who uses game design to boost productivity. He reminds us we still have to do the work but the BIG difference is that we can motivate ourselves using what works in games that makes us feel engaged and excited about our work and seeing our progress. He did this great video, which explains this beautifully.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQPShOARgAY?feature=oembed&wmode=opaque&enablejsapi=1&w=854&h=480]


So given the choice between having someone share encouraging words or having someone show me what I am doing can be fun, rewarding and valuable, I know which one I’d go for.

How about you?


Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

Leave a Reply