How to Motivate People to Take Action

 If we remember this above all else we shall avoid much of the unnecessary wheel-spinning in life: There is no excuse for effort except for action; there is no reason for action except for results.

Approach each task, each project in life, committed to this principle and we shall find our energies far more productive. No longer shall we find ourselves burning down a house to roast a pig or distilling a barrel to get a drop. The art of persuasion may be the key to accomplishment but moving one to action unlocks the door.

Many people can entertain, educate and even motivate. But far too few people know how to bring into focus, organize into one impact, and concentrate all their thoughts into one final blow—“the moment of truth”—and so move others to action. It has been said the world is comprised of four classes of people. First, there are those people oblivious to what goes on around them; they do not know what is happening. Second, we have those cold and timid souls who sit on life’s side lines and watch things happen. Then, there are those pessimistic individuals who seem to live under a cloud and are always complaining that things happen to them. And finally, we have those resourceful, courageous, ambitious people who make things happen.

George Bernard Shaw said the reason he did not write his autobiography was because nothing ever happened to him, he always happened to things. He was the event.

To be successful in life one can’t be just a spectator—he must be a participant. He can’t be satisfied to sit in life’s grandstand— he must actually be on the playing field.

A tramp walked up to a well-dressed man and said, “Give me a dollar.”

“What did you say?” retorted the stranger.

“Give me a dollar,” the tramp repeated.

Looking shocked, the man said, “Listen my haughty friend. If you had asked me for a nickel, a dime or even a quarter in a nice way I would certainly have accommodated you. But to demand a dollar so rudely—why I wouldn’t give you a red cent.”

The tramp looked the man up and down and then said, “Just a moment mister. Either give me a dollar or don’t give me a dollar, but don’t try to tell me how to run my business.”

So often in setting forth a suggested pattern to be followed it might appear that one is engaging in that “windy ecstasy of the jaw” known as giving advice. Immediately he becomes about as popular as a butcher at a vegetarian’s convention, a sheepherder at a cattleman’s convention or a revenue agent at a gambling casino. Believe me, I do not want to enjoy such unpopularity. However, I do want to make a few suggestions regarding the most effective manner of motivating people to action.

There is no principle in the field of human engineering more profound than this: In order to move a person to action we must not cause him to feel that he was persuaded but rather let him feel that he himself made the decision. For instance, almost every per son resents being sold anything, but he will boast that he bought something. All of us know that if we let an individual feel some thing is his own idea he will usually embrace it enthusiastically. We have all known people who oppose some issue that may have come up in an organization. A wise chairman appoints these same individuals as heads of committees to secure support for an issue by the entire organization. The chairman not only gains their complete support but he often gets them to do a fine job of persuading others. All of us have a deep-seated feeling of self-importance that in many cases has a greater influence upon us than the logic of a given situation.

When you first view a group picture in which you appear, whose picture are you trying to find? If there is a newspaper article about a project in which you are involved, whose name do you look for when you pick up the paper? Let’s be honest. We are all so concerned about ourselves that we couldn’t care less about the other fellow at that point.

A dear friend of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine tells a humorous incident regarding these two great people.

They had just finished making a picture. Both were invited to attend the preview showing. Alfred Lunt was sick in bed and was eagerly awaiting the return of his wife to hear her account of their performances.

“Tell me about it,” was his immediate request as she opened the door.

“Well, darling,” was her reply, “I’ve never been so horrified in my life. Most of the scenes of me were terrible. In the first place they didn’t give me any good lighting. Your lips didn’t show up too plainly, but in two scenes of me you wouldn’t think anyone had ever touched my hair. The camera made me look ten pounds overweight, and you would think they tried purposely to catch the wrong side of my face whenever possible. My dresses looked as though I had slept in them. Really, I’ve never been so unhappy over anything in my life.”

Lynn Fontanne furiously continued this way for a full ten minutes. Finally, she stopped momentarily for breath.

Alfred Lunt, who had been silently staring away into space during the entire rage, answered slowly and thoughtfully, “No lips, huh?”

This leads us to the next suggestion on motivating people to action. Let’s not criticize in any form or manner the person we are seeking to persuade. You may feel this point is so obvious as to be unworthy of mention. Please reserve your opinion until we have considered the matter thoroughly.

How much easier life would be for us all if we refrained entirely from criticizing others. There is something right about every person and every thing. If we only pause and consider we will find it. Even a broken clock is right twice each twenty-four hours. I love the great prayer of humility in which is requested, “Dear Father, let the faults of others be but a reminder to correct my own.”

The Indians expressed it in another way, “Let me not criticize my brother until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

The great Disraeli once said, “It is easier to be critical than correct.”

I was conducting a class in personal development at BerkeleyCalifornia, not too long ago and we were considering the subject of criticism. A student asked if he might borrow the blackboard for a few minutes. He went to the board and began putting down figures demonstrating simple addition. He first wrote 2 and 2 equals 4. Then 5 and 4 equals 9. Then 6 and 4 equals 10. He kept this up for about a dozen additions. Finally he wrote 5 and 6 equals 12. With one resounding voice the class of about 30 students said he was wrong. The student at the blackboard put the chalk down slowly, frowned and shook his head.

“Twelve times I was right,” he began, “and no one complimented me or gave me any sincere appreciation. But let me make one little mistake and what do you do? You criticize me immediately, loudly and in unison!”

Theodore Roosevelt once said,

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails by daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

There is a southern spiritual which I heard as a boy in my native state of Mississippi. I don’t believe I have heard it since that time. The song ended with this verse:

People go to your house to talk about me.

People come to my house to talk about you.

They can talk about me all they please.

But I’ll only talk about you down on my knees.

I once heard a person say that the only exercise some people get is jumping at conclusions, sidestepping responsibility, pushing their luck and running down their friends.

If you criticize me because of my views regarding any matter, you have offended me. It matters little whether you are right or wrong. My mind snaps shut immediately as tight as a steel trap. I promise you that you will not move me to action.

Let’s consider this fact as a third suggestion. Unless I can get together with a person physically, mentally and also emotionally, regardless of what else I may accomplish, I shall not move him to action. These are the three dimensions which leads to action. All three must exist if our end is to be accomplished.

How many times have you sat in the presence of an individual maybe only two feet away, and yet you might as well have been 10,000 miles away? Maybe his mind is on something else or per haps he is concentrating on how best he can end the interview. He taps his fingers nervously on the desk or the arm of his chair. His eyes wander or, even worse, his arms are folded and he is leaning back away from you—a certain indication of a closed mind.

In moving people to action, gaining an interview physically is only one-third of the battle. We must also gain an interview mentally and, finally, emotionally. People will often give us an interview physically simply because they feel they cannot gracefully avoid us, but once in their presence we find that they were careful to close tightly the doors to their mind and emotions before our conversation with them is even begun.

Long time ago, I signed up for a human engineering course in New York City. We were permitted a choice in selecting certain meetings to attend. Dr. Borden, then teaching at Columbia University, was holding one session entitled “First Throw the Monkey Fist.” This provocative title intrigued me and I was attracted to this lecture.

Not having been in the Navy or near ships in my life I did not understand the title of his talk. It was explained, however, that when a ship approaches a dock the first task is to see that large ropes securely fasten the ship to the dock fixtures. Since the large wet ropes are too heavy to cast ashore there is a small iron ball called a “monkey fist” which is attached to the rope by a long cord. This “monkey fist” is thrown to someone on the dock. He catches it and pulls the cord which drags the large rope to the dock.

“Any time,” Dr. Borden stated, “that you start a conversation with one individual, an interview with several people or a speech to many, before first throwing the ‘monkey fist,’ that is, first convincing a person of the importance of listening with an open mind, you are wasting his time and yours also.”

No one would commit the obvious insanity of trying to sell a man on a political issue while he was standing in his front yard at three o’clock in the morning watching his house burn to the ground. He couldn’t care less regardless of the brilliance of your logic. Who would be so stupid as to approach a widow at the funeral of her husband and attempt to sell her on the advantages of a certain new electric range? And yet I have witnessed situations almost comparable.

If our time is worth anything at all, and you and I know it is the most valuable thing we possess, we should not waste our time on a physical interview, unless we can persuade our man to take a step further and grant us a mental interview. If we see that the “flippers” on his mind are shut and will remain shut we shall only experience a “rocking chair” interview—lots of motion but we arrive nowhere. Life is too short and time too precious to spend by pouring water on a duck’s back or tossing pebbles on a tin roof. If a person has given me a physical interview, I shall not of fend him because he refuses to open the second door to me, the door of his mind, but if I am convinced that the door will not open, I shall end the meeting in a polite manner as soon as possible.

I have heard the theory that if a man grants me his physical presence, it is my responsibility from there on to open the other two doors. In some measure this is correct. I know a very successful sales manager who will never let a salesman report the result of an interview as “not interested.” If a sale is not made after an interview is granted, he requires that the salesman report “I did not interest him.” I would agree 100% with this sales manager if the first two doors had been opened and the salesman failed to open the third himself. Many times, however, we are granted a physical interview at a most inopportune time. Some times this is our own fault and other times it is unavoidable. In many cases we can’t tell whether the time is appropriate until we are in the presence of a person.

Picking the proper time to see a person is critically important when moving him to action is our ultimate end. We mentioned a couple of inappropriate times. We are playing with a two-edged sword. Certain times are most appropriate. Truly all things have their season.

I recently called upon a person in a fundraising campaign. It was very difficult to secure the interview but once in her presence I found that the second two doors were already wide open. What I did not know was that this person’s mother had been a victim of cancer.

My insurance counselor told me of the largest insurance policy he ever wrote. A certain man with many family obligations died without a penny of insurance. The agent shortly thereafter called on this person’s brother. The brother naturally had seen the tragedy that could arise from being unprepared for the inevitable and the entire problem was fresh in his mind. It took only a gentle tapping to open the second two doors.

Many business analysis firms have attempted to put buyers of ideas, services and products into definite categories. The consensus seems to be as follows:

10% of the people have a completely closed mind. They will accept no new ideas and buy nothing except the bare necessities of life. They should be avoided by salesmen as though they had smallpox. They are only destroyers of our time. They would hesitate to buy a raft if they were drowning. If they were in a falling plane you could not sell them a parachute unless you furnished testimonials.

The second category is composed of approximately twenty percent of the people. While these people do not have a closed mind they usually are quite opinionated and have preconceived ideas on almost any subject. Many of these people can be caused to open all three doors that eventually lead to action, but often the process requires so much time that our efforts can be better used in the presence of other individuals. This group is certainly not to be ignored, but we should realize that it takes considerable searching to find the responsive note—quite a bit of probing to locate the vulnerable spot. If I am making $1,000 a month and could be making $2,000 a month by expending the same amount of effort and time elsewhere, instead of actually earning $1,000 I am losing $1,000 a month. This principle applies so very strongly to our activities in human engineering.

That brings us to the third group, which constitutes approximately 60% of all with whom we come in contact. This is the group on which we should concentrate. This category is made up of many types. We have people who have open minds but who are afraid to make decisions. There are those who want to do the right thing but who are skeptical of anything they do not understand fully. Some people understand problems and even the proper solution but are just naturally complacent. Many desire benefits but are unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices. We even have those who are easily motivated but who become “panicky” when money is mentioned.

This is the group that offers the greatest opportunity for those who desire to motivate people to action. These are the people toward whom we should direct our attention.

The fourth category is made up of the remaining ten percent. These people will accept almost any idea or buy almost anything offered them. The only problem is that they will discard the idea or ignore their contractual obligations just as quickly. Their minds are usually similar to a plate of mush. One can easily push the mush to the center of the plate but almost immediately it returns to its original position. Someone has said the minds of this group are like the old-fashioned window without a counterweight. The window is easily opened but it falls shut again as soon as we no longer give it support.

But so much for the four categories into which people fall. We have discussed the importance of securing a physical interview: that is, getting into the presence of a person. Any time a salesman is not in the presence of a prospect he is unemployed. Also, we have considered the second step, securing a mental inter view: that is, persuading a person to listen to us with an open mind. This brings us to the emotional interview which is so important: that is, motivating a person and causing him to listen with his heart as well as with his mind.

Unless a person can learn to open this third door and motivate, he will never master the art of motivating people to action. It is true that logic will persuade, but only feeling and emotion will cause a person to act. I am not discounting logic. Even after we have motivated people to action by virtue of emotion, their decision will not stay “jelled” unless we have also presented sound logic. That’s why both the mental and emotional interviews are so necessary.

One reason so many inexperienced salesmen are not able to “close,” to motivate people to take action, is that they do not realize the great importance of opening this third door. In reality the first two steps are only a conditioning process for the emotional interview. Eighty-five percent of all sales are made through emotion rather than through logical analysis. Yes, moving people to action springs from emotionalization and not rationalization.

Space does not permit us to give a detailed treatise on the five great human motivating factors that cause us to act. These are PRIDE, PROFIT, NEED, LOVE, and FEAR. I am sure I can say without contradiction that everyone, without exception, will respond to one of these emotions when faced with almost any situation.

Those who are successful in motivating people to action have learned to determine through observation and communication which one of these a person is most likely to respond to. They then concentrate on this particular emotion in order to move the person to action. A man who jumps into this emotional field without first locating the vulnerable spot, the responsive note, the “hot button,” as Jack Lacey would put it, is taking the same chance that a diver would take who dives into the water without first testing the depth or temperature.

Think of this three-step, three-dimension interview the next time you are faced with the task of persuading a person to act in a certain way. If it is followed carefully, the results you get will astound you.

In this chapter we started with the major premise that in order to move a person to action we must not cause him to feel that he was persuaded but must let him feel that he himself made the decision.

Then we discussed the danger of criticism. While there are many ways to mangle an interview, the surest manner of committing communication suicide is by being critical.

Next, we considered the three dimensions necessary to move a person to action. In order successfully to move a person to action we must get together with him physically so we can communicate clearly, then mentally so we can make him recognize and under stand the problem or advantage, and finally emotionally so we can make him feel deeply the problem or opportunity and do some thing about it. We may visit, we may entertain, we may educate or we may make friends during an interview. But we do not make people act unless our interview contains all three of these dimensions.

And why is it so important to motivate people to action? It is because of the principle contained in the opening note of this chapter: There is no excuse for effort except for action; there is no reason for action except for results.

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