10 Ways to Learn What Makes People Tick at Work

What Makes Them Tick

“Winners know what makes people tick by effectively tapping into our fears and aspirations. By listening very carefully and then repeating almost word-for-word exactly what they’ve heard, winners know how to articulate compelling needs—and products to satisfy those needs—that people didn’t even know they wanted.”

–Frank I. Luntz, Win: The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary

What do women want?  For that matter what does anyone want?  How can you discover what makes people tick?  Here are 10 ways to learn what makes people tick in business relationships.

(first in a series based on the blog post 7 Principles for Making Relationships Work at Work)

1. Dig up information

How much can you find out about someone before you even meet? The more you know, the closer you will be to knowing what makes them tick. Why fly by the seat of your pants, when being prepared is so easy?

Do a little detective work prior to a first meeting or phone call. If you are short on time, at least google the person’s name. You can find a lot of information about a person in just a few minutes simply by googling their name using quotes, like this: “Diane Windingland” (quotes might not be necessary for an unusual name like mine, though). You can also include their location in the search to narrow results. Check the person’s profiles on social sites, especially LinkedIn, but also on Facebook (the amount you see depends on privacy settings).

Do you have contacts in common? Touch base with mutual acquaintances. It can be as simple as saying to your mutual acquaintance, “I’m thinking of working with Jane Doe and noticed that you are a connection on LinkedIn. How do you know each other?”

Now, you don’t want to come across as a stalker, so don’t overshare what you have discovered, especially any information that is negative. It’s fine to mention what you see on LinkedIn.

2. Build a “Motivation Map”

Have you ever been amazed, and pleased, that someone remembers some personal detail from a previous conversation you had with them? Wouldn’t you love to be that person?

You can be the person with the “amazing memory” even if you struggle to remember people’s names. The secret is to take and save notes.

I won’t kid you. This is work. Recording details of conversations, while it doesn’t take a huge amount of time, does require some discipline.

But the discipline is in the details. It’s recalling the little details, especially details that reveal motivations, beliefs and values, that lets someone know you care. When people know you care, they are more likely to trust you and to reveal to you just what makes them tick.

How can you do this, as painlessly as possible?
First consider using the tools you already use for communication and relationship management. If you have a Client Relationship Management tool, you can simply start recording notes on conversations for your contacts. I suggest you record notes, even the briefest of notes, immediately after (if not actually during) a conversation. Then, the next time you plan on contacting the person, briefly review your notes and mention something based on the conversation, such as, “I hope you enjoyed going to the lake with your family last weekend!”

You could start a computer file on each of your contacts, building a dossier of sorts. Use an app on your phone. Even a low-tech notebook will do. I’d LOVE to hear what works for other people!

3. Assess early and often

On-boarding an employee, or a client is the most opportune and natural time to ask questions that reveal motivations and personality types. Use a client questionnaire or an employee survey. Consider formal assessments, such as the DISC assessment. But don’t let your assessment be a “one-and-done” assessment. People change. Needs change. Motivations change. How often should you assess? Well, that depends on the situation. One clue that you aren’t doing assessments often enough is your retention rate—are your clients or employees leaving you at a higher rate than the industry standard?

Of course, if you merely assess or survey and then don’t do anything with that information, then you not only have wasted everyone’s time, but you also risk looking like someone who has a checklist mentality, and are just going through the motions.

4. Observe behavior

Although behavior is subject to misinterpretation, it can provide clues to people’s motivations. Generally, people will behave in ways that they think will provide a desired outcome, revealing what is important to them.

A manager berates his direct reports for missing a deadline. What is the motivation for doing so? Fear for his own job? Desire to be in control? A recognizable pattern may develop.

The challenge is that there are often competing outcomes. For example, a working parent’s top priority might be his family. Earning money to provide for that family is a supporting

priority, but typically requires long hours away from the family. The working parent faces a role conflict. How does his behavior reveal motivations? Perhaps the employee copes by texting with his kids, or leaving early for special events. You can observe this and know that family time is a motivator.

5. Make personal gestures

When you show a personal interest in people you show that you care. Stopping at someone’s desk, touching base on the phone, sending a personal email, text or social media message are a few quick ways to show that the person is important to you.

When you are first getting to know an employee or a client, if it is appropriate to your business, taking them out to coffee or lunch, away from work, can be a great opportunity to break the ice and start building a relationship.  Start finding what makes them tick.

You can also keep on the lookout for “thinking of you” opportunities as you come across useful information. Send a link to something you know they would find useful, with a little explanation as to why you thought of them.  Are you speaking to their motivations?

What ways have people connected with you personally that are memorable?

6. Ask questions, but don’t interrogate 

If you want to get people talking, ask them easy, open-ended questions or probing statements (questions or statements that encourage more than a one-word answer) and build on their answers, digging a little deeper.

For example, at a networking event I might say, “Tell me about your business.”

“I’ve been selling vacuum cleaners for 20 years.”

(Are you tempted to say, “that sucks!” I know I would be. Depending on the person, I might just say that, but with a smile, and then quickly follow up with another question, such as: “How did you get started selling vacuum cleaners?”).

Try not to ask questions in rapid-fire, interrogation style. Build rapport by commenting on what they say, especially if you can point out any similarities that you have (the more people see you as like them, the more they will like, trust and open up to you).

7. Listen for understanding

Many people appear to be listening, when in fact they are just waiting for their turn to talk. To uncover someone’s motivations, you need to practice active, reflective listening. To ensure that you understand the other person, try this approach:

  • ask clarifying questions if something is not clear
  • Test for understanding
    • Start out with a lead-in phrase, such as “So, it sounds like . . .” or, “So, what I hear you saying is . . .” A lead-in phrase is a verbal cue to the other person that you are going to reflect back your understanding.
    • Restate (paraphrase, summarize) facts, feelings, opinions, etc.
    • Ask for confirmation (use phrases like, “Is that right?” Or, “Is that what you meant?”)

8. Share—be a little vulnerable

Don’t you love being vulnerable?
It’s hard being vulnerable. Kids are vulnerable. But as we get older we put on the bullet proof vest of invulnerability.

We cinch it tighter for fear if we open up just a little, we might get shot down. An arrow might pierce our heart.

But it is when you can be a little vulnerable with people that you can build trust and connect.

A few years ago, I had coffee with a new acquaintance. As we sat at across the table from each other, we each shared a little about ourselves. He shared how he had been out of work for a while and was getting most of his food at a food shelf. I could see the guarded expression on his face, the invisible wall between us. I knew he wondered if I would judge him . . . If I would think poorly of him for being out of work.

I decided to be a strategically vulnerable.

I shared with him that I knew how he felt, because just 2 years earlier, we had been dealing with a failed business. Just 2 years earlier, not only had I gotten food at a food shelf, I’d gotten my kids Christmas gifts there too. But, it was temporary. Hard, but temporary—as it would be for him, too.  Tough times don’t last.  Tough people do.

The wall came down. His face relaxed. He leaned in. We connected. And, I began to discover what made him tick.

Taking off the bullet proof vest might be hard. It might be scary. It might just change your relationships.

9. Make it safe

If danger alarms are going off, people will revert to survival mode. They will be motivated most by that which ensures survival. Other motivations will be suppressed. Reduce the environment and attitudes that create fear (a very partial list):

  • Public criticism
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Adversarial relationships
  • Disrespectful communication
  • Pointing fingers, but unwilling to accept responsibility for mistakes
  • Withholding important information or resources

10. Create events
Special events are an opportunity to get to know people outside of daily work interactions, and they may lead to deeper connections and a greater understanding of motivations. Examples: Corporate retreats, team-building events, client events, volunteering at charity events.  Have you attended events that really helped you get to know your co-workers, employees or clients better?

Understand what makes a person tick, and you will have a more productive work relationship.

This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus:  How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect

The Respect Virus