Understand Others’ Motivations

Your impression of other peoples' motivations may be wrong -- and could be harmful to your relationships. Get-It-Done Guy shares how to arrive at more positive reasons for others' behavior.

Stever Robbins
2-minute read

Understand Others’ Motivations

One of the biggest obstacles to getting things done in the world is other people. If only we could get rid of all of them, just think how productive we’d be! You see, other people do things that get in our way. We get mad at them, we may even yell and scream, but they just yell and scream right back.

A better strategy is to take the time to understand their points of view. This isn’t easy, however. If you simply rely on your instinctive impression of their motivation, you’ll often get it wrong.

Next time someone does something that crosses you, ask yourself why they might have done it. If every explanation you come up with is negative, explicitly brainstorm some positive reasons.




For example: Les took credit for your report and you’re upset. Why did he do it?

  • Because Les is an obnoxious twit who deserves to die. (Negative)

  • Because Les is secretly out to get you fired. (Negative)

  • Because Les is empire-building and spotted a chance to build an empire based on your work. (Possibly correct, and rational, rather than knee-jerk negative)

  • Because Les didn’t realize that no one knew it was my idea. (Reasonable misunderstanding)

  • Because Les thought there would be extreme negative fallout if the suggestions in my report didn’t go through, and wanted to save me from being exposed. (Positive)

I am not meaning to suggest the negative explanations are always wrong; indeed, Les might be an obnoxious, empire-buliding twit who is out to get you fired.

But maybe not. And by considering a wide range of possibilities, you’ll calm yourself down. You’ll also have the basis for a constructive conversation with Les later. (“Les, it occurred to me that perhaps  you’re trying to build an empire. I have a zombie army you can borrow if you make me your Grand Duke.”)

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Workplace photo from Shutterstock

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.