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Communicating to Motivate Starts with Why

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

Particularly in a crisis or emergency, people are hungry for information. Leaders recognize the need to respond. They often respond with urgency - hurriedly producing detailed presentations with plenty of what and how and calling an emergency all-hands meeting. They have hopes of motivating their audience to act quickly or do something differently.

Leaders are often surprised when their efforts are met with a muted response or at times active resistance. Little do they realize that the details of the what and the how only make matters worse, increasing anxiety and stress, when they do not come with a "why?".

In a crisis or emergency, even more than normal, people are looking for clarity - an empathetic all hearts and all heads approach before they can be motivated to take action.

Why do we often skip the why?

This is mostly based on our assumptions.

1. The assumption that what and how are the fastest way to influence an audience to act. Our quest for efficiency has us skip the Why.

2. The assumption that the Why is self-evident and does not need to be called out.

What becomes possible when you take the time to communicate a compelling why?

Answering a why often leads to a human benefiting from the what and the how actions. When people can see that, what they are asked to do becomes much more meaningful and purposeful. When people can see the benefit their actions will bring, they are more motivated to act.

Here are some tips on getting to why?

1. Ask some good what questions of yourself to coax out the why that may be hiding in your subconscious.

Ask yourself:

  1. What is at stake if we do not do this?

  2. What would become possible if we do get this done?

and then follow it up with so what.

2. Follow up with because. Just considering the why is not enough. To be able to communicate it, you need to be able to articulate it.

To clearly articulate the why, think about the action you are asking the audience to take and follow that with 'because'.

a. We need to improve our process because_______.

b. And follow that reason with another "and we need to ________, because _________".

The second blank is likely to answer your why.

3. Consider alternate perspectives to address the skeptics and resistors. Motivating others is also about building their trust in what you are asking them to do. Sharing abandoned ideas and why you eliminated them can help the audience build the confidence and trust to follow you.

Answering why is an act of empathy and can go a long way in influencing, persuading and motivating your audience to act. When people know the why behind the work they are asked to do, they are more motivated to act, they are more confident about making unforeseen decisions they will inevitably encounter while taking the action, and even more importantly it makes the action much more meaningful.

Adapted from:

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