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I'm the curious type of person that likes to learn more, do things in less time, do things better, etc. I take that as a personal challenge and I honestly love it. Of course, it IS a challenge, not always easy and it frustrates me sometimes not to be able to apply this, or even force to do other stuff... but that's another subject.

I would love to introduce people to this situation, and knowing that they'll auto improve and they'll get better at what they do, so they'll be better themselves and more valuable to me and to the company (plus, the feeling of self-improvement).

But... how do I motivate someone to self-improve? Would it be ok to start through criticism of mistakes (in a very polite and soft way, of course)? Or just pointing out good things and pretending the wrong ones do not exist?

Also... is this possible for everyone, or there are people who just won't catch it?

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It's tough, but generally I think that actions speak louder than words. Maybe if I stop chatting with smokers because I don't want to breathe the 2nd-hand smoke, then it will be more effective than talking about the risks, etc. –  Adel Sep 18 '11 at 2:32
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9 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

First, I'd suggest looking at some "How to Win Friends and Influence People" suggestions:

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

  1. Don't criticize, condemn, or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

...

Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  2. Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say "You're Wrong."
  3. If you're wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
  5. Start with questions to which the other person will answer yes.
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  7. Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
  11. Dramatize your ideas.
  12. Throw down a challenge.

Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  2. Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly.
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  5. Let the other person save face.
  6. Praise every improvement.
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  9. Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.

Second, Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation notes Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose as the main motivators if something requires creativity and isn't a simple task like the "Candle Problem". Tom Wujec: Build a tower, build a team would be another TED Talk that covers some team building notes that could be of interest.

"Change or Die" would be a book about trying to get people to do things differently or face death as there were studies on patients after open heart bypass surgery. In the control group, about 1 in 10 were able to make the changes while in another group 88% were able to keep the changes by having a community of like-minded individuals, relearning how to do various activities also known as reframing for another way to view this and last but not least repeating the new behaviors to reinforce them. "Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results" and "Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life" would be a couple of other books if you want some ideas about how to handle change.

Lastly, "Strengths-Based Leadership" does have some suggestions for leading those who like to continuously improve which is the "Learner" strength in terms of building trust, showing compassion, providing stability, and creating hope.

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"How to Win Friends and Influence People" is a must read :) –  hellectronic Oct 31 '11 at 10:44
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I identify more or less with you thus I am more than eager to address your issue.

What I would do is:

(1) accept that not people have a burning desire or whatsoever desire for self-improvement;

(2) make a list of any tasks in my work where the attitude you describe is not of special benefit or is even counter-productive;

(3) invest into creating a workplace environment (culture) which encourages the qualities you describe. That would not change people deep inside themselves, but it would definitely influence their behaviour to the extent to which that is possible. More importantly - such an environment would begin to attract the proper people at one stage and put off the improper ones;

(4) fire the ones who seem hopeless to take any step towards self-improvement and seek to hire ones with the desired qualities.

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Look up Eric Thomas the Hip Hop Preacher on YouTube. He is a motivational speaker that does a great job of addressing topics to instill motivation (worked for me!).

Specifically, the "How Bad do you want it" speech. Send that to people that need some motivation !

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I think it is great that you want to motivate other people and want them to improve. That is also one of my daily goals.

But after having worked in many projects over the last years, I sadly encountered an attitude which makes it very hard to motivate other people: Some people think of their job just as a "job", a task which is mandatory and not fun at all. Some of these people don't like their job and are waking up in the morning, thinking "Not again :(".

This is a very challenging attitude. So far I have found no ways to make them think more positive of their job. So when you try to motivate them, they feel that there is no need to get better. They will get paid for their work, no matter how good or bad they are.

When there are people who do not think that way and you want to motivate them, I highly recommend to do a lot of communication. Ask them about their work and how they feel things are going and what can be improved. Tell them that you appreciate their efforts and think that they make valuable contributions. This might be enough in many cases! In "harder" cases, you can try to show them what improves in the company when they improve. Show them that they make a difference.

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I think this is the proverbial "you can lead the horse to water but can't force him to drink." You can encourage someone to do a thorough self-evaluation or assessment of a situation but you can't impose a genuine desire for change.

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Isn't it a bit manipulative to conjure up a plan for "helping" people want to change? I wonder if really you are just feeling aggravated by people and their actions and decisions and you'd like them to be more like something you can relate to and get along with.

Believe me, I can relate. But I think really the only choice you have is to be the best person you can be. If you want self-improvement to be part of the equation, then your "best person" could include respecting others (I honestly think this might be the most important step) and being honest with those around you, whether about things that please you or things that bother you.

When I have open communication with those around me, we both end up in the mindset of self-improvement. As long as the open communication includes both sides giving feedback and the feedback includes positive feedback and not just negative.

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I think you partially answered your own question. You say "I'm the curious type of person that likes to (...) and I honestly love it." YOU are that type of person - not everyone is.

I think if you start with the idea of trying to turn everyone into the same type of person you are, either for increased company productivity or for their own good (as perceived by you), a lot of people will end up resenting you. People don't like others to tell them what's good for them - especially when maybe they really just aren't the right type of person for it and it won't work well for them anyway. I think you should rethink your attitude a little - just that something makes you happy doesn't mean it's the right thing for everyone.

In particular, I really thing criticism is just going to get you resentment. But praise for something people did in a way you like is usually good (unless they resented doing it that way, or catch on that you're just trying to change the way they do things in general). Giving advice for particular problems they're trying to solve can be good too - certainly much better than advice that doesn't solve a clear problem they're already working on.

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I would say that learning desire is the key if the person you are going to help is not interested in what you say then there won't be much use of it. So first of all we have to see and check how they respond to our opinions. Keep in mind that everyone in the world thinks like "Only i am right" and that is the basic nature of every human being.

Only thing we can do is to show them the facts or the things we learned from our experience and then compare it with their situation that way it won't be a straight hit on that person as you are giving your example first that you also faced the same situation and this is how you came out of it.

Hope that helps.

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The first thing to realise is that ultimately most people don't really want to change. They may feel unhappy with the way things are - but when it comes down to it the effort required to change feels greater than the perceived benefit that they will get from the work.

You would need to switch this perception around for them.

You can do this in one of three ways.

  1. Make it so that they will perceive a greater pain to not changing than changing. This can be as you suggested through gently criticizing them. It can be through harsher methods - taking a smoker into the local lung cancer ward for example. There are anti drink driving adverts on TV showing some horrendous car accident, vegetarian documentaries showing the insides of a meat factory. Politicians point out how their opponents policies would destroy the country. This all falls into this category.

  2. Make it so that they perceive a greater reward to changing, so the effort will seem worthwhile. This can be done through example. If your friend sees how great your life is due to your motivation, they may feel inspired. A lot of advertising plays on this too. "Buy this product and your life will be Amazing!!" Read some Tony Robbins, he is great at convincing people that change is very worthwhile.

  3. Make is so that they perceive the effort required to change is small, so it will be worthwhile. If they are fat and need to lose weight, find a way to show them how it isn't so hard to exercise. Many diets and exercise programs take this tack. "Follow our easy three steps and your life will be Amazing!!"

Ultimately it's all down to influencing their perceptions. You cannot force them to do anything, and if they do see you as trying to do this - it is likely that they will take offence and become defensive. The key is to subtly trick them into seeing things differently without them feeling as though you are forcing anything on them.

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I wonder if those things ever worked on somebody. The result of the first suggestion may be that the person stops seeing you. That will definitely happen if you start to criticize. I hope you will not lose too many friends by doing this. –  M.K. Oct 2 '11 at 0:21
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Leading by example is always important. If they cannot see it in you, they will not accept your suggestion. If they see you and want to change, then they will open up for your suggestions. –  hellectronic Oct 31 '11 at 10:43
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@M.K Of course they worked thats why marketing departments around the world spend billions refining these techniques. The key is using the right trick in the right place. If you can empathize with the other person and you know they cant take criticism, then dont use it, it won't work. Use something else. –  Mongus Pong Oct 31 '11 at 18:55
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