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Marvin Marshall


Motivating Your Employees and Co-Workers to Do What You Want

Communicate, not with coercion, but with positivity, choices, and reflection

Published: Monday, October 4, 2010 - 08:07

Leadership would be easy if it weren’t for those we lead. As any leader or manager knows, getting people to actually want to do the tasks you need them to do can be a challenge. People will not fully commit to a task unless they’re motivated to desire your goals and objectives or the reason behind the task.

Unfortunately, many managers and leaders rely on external motivators to get people to do things. For example, using rewards as enticements, or threats of punishment, are approaches aimed at obtaining obedience and compliance. They overpower, rather than empower. Telling people what to do and then rewarding them if they do as expected, or threatening them if they do not, increases stress while diminishing professional relationships.

Because these management approaches are manipulative, the results are never as effective as cultivating internal motivation. Manipulative approaches are something you do to other people and they have little long-lasting effects. This is in contrast to working with people to empower them.

Whenever you impose something on someone, it only produces short-term results because the person doesn’t have any ownership in it. Think about it. If these external motivational approaches were effective, getting employees motivated to carry out the company’s needed objectives would be easy, not something managers read countless books about.

The irony of manipulating behavior is that the more you use it in an attempt to control people, the less real influence you have. Although managers want to remain in control, the paradox is that the more you empower others, the more effective you become. In addition, if people only do something because they are forced to, not because they want to, you haven’t really succeeded as a leader. Truly effective leaders know how to trigger internal motivation for commitment that has people wanting to carry out objectives without the lure of a reward or the fear of threat.

Following are three powerful, enduring, and universal practices that will make your management much easier. By implementing these practices on a regular basis, your staff will be more eager to accomplish mutually beneficial goals.


So often, when we want our employees or co-workers to change, we attempt to influence them by using negative rather than positive communication that would prompt them to want to do what we would like. Even the worst salesperson knows enough not to make the customer angry. Yet, because we allow our emotions to direct us, we often ignore this commonsense approach when dealing with staff members. You can easily tell if you are sending negative messages if what you say blames, complains, criticizes, nags, or threatens.

Positive communication elevates the spirit; it offers encouragement and support. It sends the message that the other person is capable of handling challenges. Positivity creates hope and prompts feelings of being valued, supported, and respected. Communicating in positive terms triggers enthusiasm, capability, pride, dependability, and responsibility—none of which are triggered by negativity.

Because being positive is so enabling, it makes sense to stop all thoughts and communication that are negative. Therefore, become conscious of phrasing your communication with your team in positive terms. Continually ask yourself, “How can I communicate this message in a positive way?” For example, saying, “Don’t be late again tomorrow,” is disabling, and prompts being late because the word “don’t” is not visualized; what comes after the “don’t” is what the brain visualizes. “I look forward to your being on time tomorrow,” prompts the picture you want, is enabling, and is much more effective.


When people resist doing something you ask of them or do something contrary to your instructions, offer them choices rather than force your request on them; then watch how quickly their resistance weakens. Offering choices paves the way to changing behavior and is much more effective than barking orders. By giving staff members some degree of control, you will get more cooperation. There is a simple reason for this: People do not argue with their own decisions.

Even when there are no choices about whether or not to do something, you can build in some element of choice. Just a small one qualifies because any choice allows the person to retain dignity and power. For example, suppose you need one of your employees to do a webinar to educate current clients about some new product features. The choice is not whether to do the webinar. The choice is in the how. “Would you like to do a live WebEx meeting or a recorded demo of the new features?” By giving a choice of how to do the presentation, you can avoid a confrontation. Offering choices is a simple approach you can use to immediately reduce resistance.


The most effective approach for influencing another person is to ask reflective questions. When specific reflective questions are asked, people are prompted to think, reconsider, change their minds, and grow. By asking this type of question, you will accomplish what you want more effectively, with less resistance, and with less stress. By having the employee reflect, you instantly avoid the person’s natural resistance to being controlled.

Reflective questions are noncoercive. They guide, rather than force. Reflective questions elicit a thinking response and are framed to fit the situation and clarify. Specifically, they:

• Focus on the present or future, as opposed to the past
• Often start with “What?” or “How?”
• Are usually open-ended in that they require more than a “yes” or “no” answer

As soon as you start asking reflective questions, you will immediately realize the effectiveness and power of this strategy. Questions such as the following promote deep and reflective thinking:

• “What would be the best approach [to reach the sales target, reduce errors, increase production, etc.]?”
• “How can we correct this mistake?” • “What would you recommend we do differently next time?” • “What can you do to accomplish that objective?” • “How can we do that without causing disruption [to research and development, the sales cycle, manufacturing, etc.]?”

A more productive and profitable future

When you regularly use these three practices of positivity, choice, and reflection, you will become a more effective manager. Additionally, your team members will naturally put more effort into their work and will achieve greater results. By switching from coercive management behavioral approaches to collaborative and empowering thinking approaches, you can influence your staff to perform at peak performance levels, which will positively affect your company’s bottom line.


About The Author

Marvin Marshall’s picture

Marvin Marshall

Marvin Marshall, Ed.D.,—an American educator, writer, and lecturer—is widely known for his programs on discipline and learning. His approach stemmed from his acquiring knowledge about youth as a parent, a recreation director and camp counselor, a classroom teacher, a school counselor, an elementary and high school principal, district director of education, and as a certificate holder from the William Glasser Institute. His approach is based on the simple fact of life that a person can be controlled by another person or organization but only can be changed by the actual person. This understanding that only individuals can change themselves is critical in influencing others. More information is available at www.marvinmarshall.com.