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Deciphering the needs and motives of another person

Author: Dr Simon Moss

Overview

Often, individuals would like to decipher the motives, intentions, feelings, and thoughts of someone else. For example, coaches or counsellors might want to understand the principal motives and concerns of their clients, recognizing that some individuals are reluctant to share these thoughts and emotions. Coaches, counsellors, and other practitioners might like to derive this information from incidental remarks, mannerisms, or facial expressions.

Word usage

The words that individuals use offer some insight into their preferences, motivations, and intentions.

Motivations

Step 1. When you interact with someone, consider whether or not they use concrete or abstract descriptions. Concrete descriptions specify observable acts or outcomes, such as "Jim punched John". Abstract descriptions specify unobservable feelings or traits, such as "Jim hates John".

If individuals primarily allude to concrete words and descriptions, their main motivation is to redress immediate problems. In these instances, you should discuss specific practices that address these shortfalls and satisfy their immediate duties. An example might be "You need to instruct the HR manager to call Jim tomorrow".

If individuals primarily allude to abstract words and descriptions, their principal motivation is to pursue future aspirations. To inspire these individuals, you could discuss broad strategies and opportunities they could pursue to fulfill future goals. An example might be "You need to change the culture of your team".

Individuals who primarily strive to minimize shortfalls, rather than pursue future aspirations, are more likely to use concrete words--and more inclined to be convinced by arguments that include concrete terms (Gun, Higgins, de Montes, Estourget, & Valencia, 2005). That is, these individuals focus their attention on specific details, rather than abstract concepts, to identify possible sources of problems and difficulties. As a consequence, abstract concepts do not promote a sense of resonance, but seem irrelevant or unimportant.

Step 2. In addition, when you interact with someone, determine whether or not they attempt to use words or phrases that are synonymous with logic and thought, such as "it's irrational" or "I think I should...", or intuition and emotion, such as "I sense that..." or "I feel I should...".

If individuals refer to logic and thought, they tend to value tangible, symbolic rewards, such as money, qualifications, or promotions (Van den Berga, Mansteada van der Pligta, & Wigboldus, 2006). To persuade these individuals, you should present logical, systematic arguments, rather than use emotional, inspiring language. You might assert, for example, "This couch is the most durable product for the price

If individuals refer to emotion or intuition, they tend to value intangible, fulfilling experiences, such as the satisfaction of helping someone us or the enjoyment of learning another skill (Van den Berga, Mansteada van der Pligta, & Wigboldus, 2006). To persuade these individuals, you should refer to more enjoyable, pleasurable, and subjective features. You might propose, for instance "This couch is so warm and soft"

Step 3. On some occasions, individuals are motivated to enhance themselves--that is, to achieve goals, to improve their reputation, to optimize their performance, to develop their skills, and to solve problems. On other occasions, individuals are more motivated to develop warm, close, and supportive relationships or to improve their emotions (e.g., see Horowitz, Krasnoperova, Tatar, Hansen, Person, Galvin, & Nelson, 2001).

Some of the words that individuals use imply their primary motive is to enhance themselves. These individuals often use words like "should", "could", and "would" as well as long words and speak in the past, not present, tense. They seldom use words like "I", "me", "my", or "mine" (Pennebaker & King, 1999). To persuade or assist these individuals, you should present tangible advice--concrete suggestions they could pursue (for similar distinctions, see Fishbach & Labroo, 2007& Horowitz, Krasnoperova, Tatar, Hansen, Person, Galvin, & Nelson, 2001).

Some of the words that individuals use imply their primary motive is to develop trusting relationships. These individuals often refer to emotions, such as anxiety or happiness as well as speak in the present tense (Pennebaker & King, 1999). To persuade or assist these individuals, you should convey empathy, understanding, and warmth, refraining from the need to present immediate advice (Horowitz, Krasnoperova, Tatar, Hansen, Person,Galvin, & Nelson, 2001).

Step 4. On some occasions, individuals are motivated to outperform everyone else, striving to perceive themselves as competent, unique, powerful, and autonomous. On other occasions, individuals are motivated to feel connected to a broader collective, such as their workgroup (see Stapel & Koomen, 2001, 2005& Stapel & Van der Zee, 2006).

Some of the words that individuals use indicate their need to be competent, unique, powerful, and autonomous. More references to themselves, such as "I" or "my", than to a collective, such as "we" or "us", might manifest this need (Stapel & Koomen, 2001). To persuade these individuals, you should present suggestions that fulfill their need to be unique and powerful (Stapel & Van der Zee, 2006). You could use phrases like "This activity will really separate you from the rest".

In contrast, some of the words that individuals use indicate their need to be connected and bonded to a broader collective. Words like "we" or "us" rather than "I" and "mine" could manifest this state of mind (Stapel & Koomen, 2001). To persuade these individuals, you should present suggestions that fulfill their need to be similar to everyone else (Stapel & Van der Zee, 2006). You could use phrases like "This activity has become very popular in your profession".

Preparation

Flexibility

Step 1. Before meeting clients or customers, transcribe a short set of specific recommendations you would like to convey and a few procedures you would like to follow. If you are a coach, for example, you might like to convey the principle that individuals should consider how the tasks relate to some broader purpose or meaning in their lives. Alternatively, you might specify five questions you would like to ask.

Once the meeting begins, however, you should not focus too heavily on conveying your knowledge or fulfilling your plans. Refrain from the urge to demonstrate your knowledge or follow rigid procedures. Instead, your goal should be to focus your attention on the questions, requests, remarks, answers, mannerisms, and motives of the other person and trust your capacity to respond appropriately. To fulfill this goal, you could:

These practices offer two key benefits. First, when individuals curb the need to demonstrate their knowledge or follow plans, they do not focus their attention on formal rules, practices, and principles they have formed in the past. When individuals forego rigid rules, they become more sensitive to subtle changes and cues in the environment (Hayes, Brownstein, Zettle, Rosenfarb, and Korn, 1986), such as the incidental remarks and mannerisms of another person.

Second, when individuals feel they can apply their intuition, rather than formal rules and principles, they become less inclined to regret their decisions later, especially if they feel relaxed rather than threatened (see Bolte, Goschke, & Kuhl, 2003& Kuhl, 2000). The benefits of intuition prevail when the decisions are complex, because the alternatives differ on a multitude of ambiguous and subjective attributes (Dijksterhuis & van Olden, 2006)

Composure

Step 2. Before meeting another person, you could engage in exercises that alleviate anxiety or dejection (see Alleviating anxiety and Diminishing dejection and depression). You could, for example:

When individuals feel relaxed and content, such as the feelings they derive from meditation, their capacity to decipher the emotions and intentions of someone else does not necessarily improve. They do, however, tend to perceive other individuals as pleasant rather than threatening (Nielson & Kaszniak, 2006), which can facilitate rapport.

Developing social skills

Improving empathy

Step 1. Occasionally, attempt to decipher the feelings or thoughts of a friend or colleague in a social setting. Specifically, during a meeting, gathering, or party, shift your attention to someone who is located on the left side of your body--someone near your left shoulder perhaps. Observe this person, including their mannerisms or facial expressions, for a minute or so. Apply your intuition to identify the intensity of their emotions and the content of their thoughts.

Interestingly, people can more readily decipher the emotions, thoughts, and intentions of someone who is located towards their left, rather than right, shoulder (Puccinelli, Tickle-Degnen, & Rosenthal, 2004). In general, the right hemisphere, which can decipher emotions more effectively (Kuhl & Kazen, 2008& see the motivational lateralization hypothesis), processes anyone who is located on the left side (see also Empathic accuracy) .

Step 2. Whenever appropriate, seek feedback about whether your conjectures about their emotions, thoughts, or intentions were correct. You could ask, for example, "How are you going? You sort of seem a little frustrated". Over time, the feedback to these question has been shown to enhance the capacity of individuals to decipher the emotions and feelings of someone else (Barone, Hutchings, Kimmel, Traub, Cooper, & Marshall, 2005).

Step 3. Sometimes, you should reflect upon how you might be able to help a friend or colleague, especially a few minutes before you plan to interact with this person. You might identify an activity that is convenient for you but helpful to the other person.

If individuals strive to help another person, they experience a simultaneous sense of power and empathy. This combination of states enhances the capacity of individuals to decipher the emotions, preferences, and intentions of someone else (e.g., Mast, Jonas, & Hall, 2009& see Perceived power).

References

Barone, D. F., Hutchings, P. S., Kimmel, H. J., Traub, H. L., Cooper, J. T., & Marshall, C. M. (2005). Increasing empathic accuracy through practice and feedback in a clinical interviewing course. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24, 156-171.

Bolte, A., Goschke, T., & Kuhl, J. (2003). Emotion and intuition: Effects of positive and negative mood on implicit judgments of semantic coherence. Psychological Science, 14, 416-421.

Dijksterhuis, A., & van Olden, Z. (2006). On the benefits of thinking unconsciously: Unconscious thought can increase post-choice satisfaction. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 627-631.

Fishbach, A., & Labroo, A. A. (2007). Be better or be merry: How mood affects self-control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 158-173.

Gun, S., Higgins, T., de Montes, L. G., Estourget, Y., & Valencia, J. F. (2005). Linguistic signatures of regulatory focus: How abstraction fits promotion more than prevention. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 36-45.

Hayes, S. C., Brownstein, A. J., Zettle, R. D., Rosenfarb, I., & Korn, Z. (1986). Rule-governed behavior and sensitivity to changing consequences of responding. Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 45, 237-256.

Horowitz, L. M., Krasnoperova, E. N., Tatar, D. G., Hansen, M. B., Person, E. A., Galvin, K. L., & Nelson, K. L. (2001). The way to console may depend on the goal: Experimental studies of social support. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 37, 49-61.

Koole, S. L., Smeets, K., van Knippenberg, A., & Dijksterhuis, A. (2006). The cessation of rumination through self-affirmation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 111-125.

Kuhl, J. (2000). A functional-design approach to motivation and volition: The dynamics of personality systems interactions. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Self-regulation: Directions and challenges for future research (pp. 111-169). New York: Academic Press.

Mast, M. S., Jonas, K., & Hall, J. A. (2009). Give a person power and he or she will show interpersonal sensitivity: The phenomenon and its why and when. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 835-850.

McGowen, S. (2002). Mental representations in stressful situations: The calming and distressing effects of significant others. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 152-161.

Nielson, L., & Kaszniak, A. W. (2006). Awareness of subtle emotional feelings: A comparison of long-term meditators and nonmeditators. Emotion, 6, 392-405.

Pennebaker, J. W., & King, L. A. (1999). Linguistic styles: Language use as an individual difference. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1296-1312.

Puccinelli, N. M., Tickle-Degnen,L., & Rosenthal, R. (2004). Effect of target position and target task on judge sensitivity to felt rapport. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 28, 211-220.

Stapel, D. A., & Koomen, W. (2001). I, we, and the effects of others on me: Self-construal level moderates social comparison effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 766-781.

Stapel, D. A., & Koomen, W. (2005). Competition, cooperation, and the effects of others on me. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 1029-1038.

Stapel, D. A. & Van der Zee, K. I. (2006). The self salience model of other-to-self effects: Integrating principles of self-enhancement, complementarity, and imitation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 258-271.

Van den Berga, H., Mansteada S. R., van der Pligta, J., & Wigboldus, D. H. J. (2006). The impact of affective and cognitive focus on attitude formation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 373-379.



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Last Update: 5/7/2016