MUCH OF motivation is linked to how communication takes place. Persuasion is a necessary ingredient in many business dynamics. However, persuasion attempts often have a detrimental effect on motivation.


I have spoken often about the benefits accruing from having employees and customers energized by intrinsic or self-motivation. Studies and experience affirm that when people are operating in this mode they are characterized by a range of beneficial attributes. Employees display greater enthusiasm, productivity, creativity, endurance and even health. Among other things, customers are more likely to be loyal and understanding when circumstances call for same.

The psychological needs that must be satisfied to achieve this state of being are for autonomy (to experience choice, not pressure), for competence (to achieve goals, to be optimally challenged in learning new things), and for relatedness (to be in a mutually trusting relationship). Understanding how to meet these needs, in the many and varied situations that arise in business, will enable managers to help subordinates’ reach and maintain intrinsic drives, leading toward greater success with their work. The same principles of motivational persuasion apply in the relationship between providers of goods and services and their customers.

At the core of this effort to bring about a superior form of motivation is the strength of communication of those in a leadership role either as a manager in the organization, or as a sales rep for it. In particular, the skill or art of persuasion is key. Individuals have the opportunity to greatly affect the status of motivational satisfaction of those under their influence. There are some givens in our culture, however, that seem to undermine one’s attempts to create and sustain an environment where the aforementioned psychological needs are satisfied.

One example: The penchant many have for aggressively pursuing an immediate sale, rather than seeking an ongoing relationship with the client. Thoughts easily go to the classic automobile showroom attempted sale, using the “This deal is only good for today”-tactic. Mercifully, there appears to be a trend by some advanced thinkers in the field to resist such short-term pressure techniques to help build a more ongoing, satisfied customer base.

When attempting to “close a deal” with a client or prospect, care should be taken not to put undue pressure on the decision-maker, which is experienced as a violation of the needs for both relatedness and autonomy.

In the employment domain, there might be a desire to bring others under your influence around to a particular position, such as embracing a new product or policy modification. Great effort is usually expended in the matter of preparing a presentation or outlining a talk that will be given. This is a view that implies the initiator or presenter should be the primary focus of attention. But this is not so: The audience’s needs must guide the flow.

Let’s take the case of a manager addressing subordinates about a new compensation program. While it is likely that compliance with the new terms will be a given (i.e., no real alternatives exist), surely a legitimate attempt to have all “buy in” is called for. In such circumstances, a manager ought to avoid, as much as possible, using a controlling manner in addressing the staff. Inviting questions and inputs can counter the truism “A plan imposed is a plan opposed.” Connecting with the audience on a personal level counts.

Having the right things to say is only a part of the reason favorable outcomes can be achieved in persuasive communications. There is motivation vulnerability attached to how persuasion is handled.

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