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Paul Baard's Motivation Matters: Improved relational skills impact motivation

September 16. 2018 7:12PM

As the new academic year unfolds, a number of things are put in place that directly impact a student’s motivation. Business people, in their roles as parents or coaches, are uniquely positioned to safeguard the motivational environment young people will operate in for the coming year.

Relationships are key in the world of motivation. In the education system, they include those with fellow classmates, teachers, coaches, friends and especially parents. In this realm, mom and dad can serve in what might be considered “life coaching,” not unlike that which career coaches do for up-and-coming business leaders.

The concept of mentors has been around for millennia, of course. Some educators have dismissively labeled certain parental involvements as “helicopter parenting.” However, this is not a call for an intrusive approach, where attempts are made to negotiate everything from grades to team participation. When done properly, parents can have a profound impact on a student and help shape the motivation to achieve.

The motivational issue is ensuring the satisfaction of the innate motivational need for connectedness — a mutual reliance and respect — with people who are important in a student’s environment. This is essential in order to experience intrinsic or self-motivation, the gold standard for ongoing success in learning. Some sources of difficulty are identified below, along with ideas on mitigating same.

1. Collaborate rather than triangulate As parent and offspring pull alongside one another to deal with issues impacting motivation, care must be given to avoiding speaking poorly about others. In times of heightened anxiety, it is tempting to dump ill feelings upon another not present. Triangulation is a term I use to describe this dynamic. This is a form of gossiping, which is a very destructive practice.

2. Become self-defined, not other-defined

Much of the frustration associated with the emotional development process is triggered by insufficient self-definition. In effect, if someone has not sufficiently come to accept his or her strengths and weaknesses, that individual will be vulnerable to having others do that.

This makes evaluative comments, heard or imagined, potentially threatening, psychologically. If this has not been done already, it is not too late to help your student assess who he or she has come to be thus far, and who they would like to be. Helping your child view weaknesses as opportunities for growth and maturation will put the feedback of others in perspective.

3. Treat compliments as affirmations

Rather than having someone’s positive comments experienced as sources of ego satisfaction, treat them more as affirmations of something you’re good at or feedback on your competencies. Rewards can feel nice but have the downside of becoming controlling. When one over-values positive commentary, the potential of over-reacting to negative input exists. This is where helping your student become better self-defined will really make a difference.

4. Choose assertive vs. aggressive language

An example of assertive speech would be sentences that begin with “I believe” compared with the aggressive form “You should.” Studies have shown the former is less likely to evoke a defensive posture. Utilizing assertive speech will not only help a parent and child communicate more amicably, but will also serve a student well in his or her academic and social settings.

5. Use effective vs. distracted listening skills

Multi-tasking is not conducive to hearing the total communication of another, where much is lost in the need to discern emotions, conviction, tone, level of enthusiasm, etc. The presence of distractions such as cell phones, computers, TVs, or other interferences (e.g., loud music) detract from the exchange of communication. Even the sound notifying receipt of a text message can be a hindrance to effective listening; consider turning off your device, if only as a gesture on your part of the importance you attach to a communication.

The goal is to have a child feel a sense of team, with the parent viewed more as a helpful coach than a judgmental umpire. It is as much art as science for parents to have a positive impact on their offspring’s dealings. It takes time and effort, and may not always go smoothly, but even by just modeling the behavior above, parents are teaching students how to improve their relational skills, and their motivational environment is strengthened.

And how much more effective is a parent at work knowing his or her child is moving well along the road toward greater academic motivation?

Dr. Paul P. Baard is an organizational psychologist, specializing in motivation, with Fordham University, a former senior line executive in the television industry, and the lead author of a book on leadership and motivation. He and Veronica Baard, a former managing director responsible for HR at a major international investment banking firm, head up Baard Consulting LLC, a firm in the greater Boston area, focusing on motivation, conflict reduction and team building. Questions are welcomed at


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