How To Figure Out What Motivates Others

by: Jas Singh
CEO of IOPA Solutions

Success is built on the right type of motivation.

In fact, usually the best relationships we have are not with those people who supply the best product, are the most knowledgeable or even who we’ve known the longest. Instead, it’s usually with those people whose motivation and focus is in line with our own.

We’ve all experienced it. Hiring managers hire “perfect” candidates from the competition but soon realize the candidate isn’t driven to work hard. Other times, we spend ages looking for the right service provider, only to then be let down once the deal is closed. And sometimes we even invest hours on end to help loved ones, only to be consistently hurt and let down because they’re too lazy or reluctant to actually take action.

But it’s not like we don’t ask. In fact, in my experience most hiring managers do spend a long time asking candidates what motivates them and laying down the required expectations.

So why the mismatch?

The problem is us humans love to conform. If someone asks us a question, we’ll try to give them an answer that they’d like to hear. To get a more accurate analysis of what really motivates others it’s important to go deeper. To develop our ability to screen others more accurately.

Here are some ways to figure out more accurately what really motivates others.

Get the full picture

When we’re looking to assess others – whether in business, pleasure or our relationships, it’s easy to be blinkered by our own selfish interests.

In our desperation to fulfil our own needs, most of us usually see people the way we want to see them. We tend to focus purely on what we want out of the relationship and so concentrate most of our conversation in this limited area.

But people are complex. There are always multiple factors in play. In the work place for example, it’s all very well focusing on experience, targets and career expectations but for most people this is much less important than pressures in their personal life, health or simply having to succeed to support your family.

Motivation can stem from anywhere. Our families. Our financial situation. Our desire to fulfil a childhood dream. Even the desire to prove another person wrong.

The great thing about life is that all of us are different, but the key to successful leadership is discovering what really motivates others. That’s why it’s essential to keep peeling back the layers of the onion and exploring as much as possible in different areas to get the fullest picture possible.

The fuller the picture, the more accurate the analysis.

What are their fondest memories?

Actions speak louder than words.

Most people when asked what motivates them won’t be able to say for sure. However, ask a person what their fondest memories are – their biggest achievement, happiest moments, most inspirational times – and they’ll be able to answer instinctively.

The more vivid the memory, the greater the impact. Asking others about their most inspirational experiences is a great starting point to explore what really motivates them. Did they enjoy that year travelling because they like to continuously learn and try new things? Was their stellar academic track record because they are motivated by recognition and competition? Did they perform amazingly in that last job because they thrived in a working-from-home environment and the flexibility and autonomy it brings?

Big accomplishments are fueled by big motivation. Get into other’s shoes and see what has been most important to them.

Get them to relax

Ever had a great first date only to be disappointed once you really got to know the person? Ever met a great sales person that seemed like the answer to your prayers, only left to be hung out to dry? Ever been treated like royalty at your first time in a restaurant only to then see the service level spiral downwards?

In high-stakes situations, we all know how to make a good impression. Fueled by adrenaline, we’re desperate to please in the hope that the other person could be the long lost savior we’ve been looking for. So we all say and do things simply to create a good impression – regardless of whether it meets our own essential needs.

Truth is uncovered when the guard is down. In order to get others to open-up and have a more transparent conversation it’s essential to get them to relax. Rather than see them with their “game-face” on, you’ll see what comes naturally.

Motivation is discovered when the guard is down


Skills, experience, interests and knowledge are easy to assess.

But what’s harder – and often far more important – is to determine motivation.

Great leaders understand that the key to great success is not just being able to motivate others. It’s also to ensure that their follower’s motivation is aligned in the first place.

What type of motivation are you looking for?