Motivating people to read

9 July 2009   

  Let’s carry on with the subject of the last post:  motivation.  It’s at the core of how we function and why we do the things we do.

     We keep ourselves clean, well groomed and nicely dressed – because we’re motivated to be attractive and win the love and affection of a life partner.

     We get higher degrees – because we’re motivated to get into a good career – and win the love and affection of a life partner.

     We stay informed and work hard to demonstrate our value – because we’re motivated to impress our company and get promotions and higher pay – and win the love and affection of a life partner.

     These things are all rooted in the instinct to survive and thrive.

     But what motivates people when it comes to communication, in particular, written communication?

Take advantage of people’s instincts

     How can we write in a way that capitalises on people’s instincts to survive and thrive?

     In Mastering Business in Asia Series: Negotiation, the author, Peter Nixon, discusses how people are motivated, because it’s vital to consider what motivates the person you’re preparing to negotiate with. 

     According to Nixon, there are three basic motivations in a negotiation: results, rationale and relationships.  We’re all motivated to some degree by all three things.  But most people are driven primarily by one.  People motivated by results want to know if what you propose will help the ‘bottom line’.  Those motivated by rationale want to know your logic -- how you’ve thought things through.  And those motivated by relationships are interested in how things will help the people important to them.

‘Negotiate’ meaning

     When we communicate, we negotiate meaning.  So what is your reader’s primary motivation?  Do they primarily want to know

  • the end results of what you’re saying?
  • the logical arguments behind what you’re saying?
  • the effects on other people of what you’re saying?


     Let’s consider a results-motivated reader.  If you’re writing that person a proposal, you may want to state the outcome at the beginning of the document.  For example, ‘If we adopt these new policies, we can save time and reduce headcount in the coming year.’  This may be all they want or need to know.  Or they may want to read more to see how you’ve supported the proposal.  In either case, you’ve worked with what motivates them, and given them a choice of whether or not to keep reading.  This is another way to follow the platinum rule for writing.

     What motivates you?  Take a look at some of the documents you’ve read at work – and see if any of the writers have appealed to your primary motivation.  How could they change the information to make their writing more useful and interesting for you?  Tell us what you’ve discovered.




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