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People Work Best When They Feel Good About Themselves

How to motivate and engage your staff

How do we keep everyone engaged and motivated in today’s workplace? This is a key question for every manager and every leader at every level in the workplace.

People work best when they feel good about themselves.

John Dewey, one of America’s most profound philosophers, said that the deepest urge in human nature is “the desire to feel important”. The most effective managers and leaders understand this human desire.

Maya Angelou, the novelist and human rights activist, said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget how you said it, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Coco Chanel, the famous fashion designer, was once asked how she judged the success of her dresses. Chanel responded by saying that if a man says to a lady wearing one of her dresses, “That dress looks fabulous” then she has failed as a designer. However, if a man says to a lady wearing one of her dresses “You look fabulous” then she has succeeded as a designer.

People never forget how you make them feel.

The best leaders and managers make their employees feel good about themselves. How do they do it?

They do so by getting to know every one of their team as well as they can - their hobbies, their career plans, their birthday, the names of their children. Why? Because you can’t motivate someone you don’t know and understand.

How can we get to know our team better? We do so by using a key people skill – asking great questions.

How do we ask great questions?

Great questions are open questions. When we ask an open question we create the environment for others to talk and for ourselves to listen. Reflect for a moment on the letters of the word “listen.” The letters also spell the word “silent.” If you are not silent, you can’t be listening.

Listening shows respect. Listening makes people feel special. When you listen and ask great questions you show humility. You show you are interested.

The story is told of a young psychologist who took a month out from his normal work and flew back and forth every day from Los Angeles to New York. He would always sit in the middle seat of three.

After take-off he would start a conversation with the person either side but, rather than trying to be interesting, he would focus instead on being interested. All he did was ask great questions and let the other person speak.

At the end of the journey he would ask for their details on the premise that he could do something for them or that they would stay in touch. One week later a researcher would call the people he had sat next to. They all remembered him. They all said how much they liked him; although none could recall if he was married, or what he did for a living or where he was from (because he never told them).

However the most amazing part of the research was the fact that over 70% described him as one of the most interesting people they had EVER met!

The moral of the story – be interested rather than trying to be interesting if you want to be thought of as an interesting person.

Great managers and leaders are always interested.

One of the most influential personal development books ever written is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Written in the 1930’s, the book is as relevant today as it ever was. At the heart of the book are Carnegie’s thirty human relations principles – a set of statements for engaging and motivating people that are so beautifully simple and yet so profound.

Dale Carnegie tells us to become genuinely interested in other people, to begin in a friendly way, to talk in terms of the other person’s interests, to make the other person feel important, to try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.

The principles are as applicable in the workplace, as in life, if we want to get the best from the people we lead and manage.

When we have an engaged workforce we have engaged teams that Professor John-West Burnham says, “are always restless, constantly questioning, never satisfied, challenging norms, believing that things can always be better.”

When Clive Woodward took over an under-performing England rugby team and led them to Rugby World Cup glory in Australia in 2003 their motto was summed in three short words – ''better never stops.''

Such a belief characterises a workplace where everyone is engaged and motivated.

Are you interested in an in-house session for your organisation on building employee engagement?

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About the author

JJ Lynch is an international leadership trainer, facilitator, author and motivational speaker. He is Managing Director of Leading Edge Leadership, a London-based leadership training company and author of the best-selling book How To Win – in life, business and everything else).

Leading Edge Leadership
Last updated: 18 Jun 2018

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