Motivating others…

While I know that motivating oneself can be very difficult, I actually think it’s an even bigger challenge to motivate others. I think motivating people is different from just being “scary enough” or “commanding enough” that people get stuff done for you.

Motivating, in my opinion, includes getting the person to (to some degree) want to do the work. To help them find it easier to get focused and stay focused. It is often done through providing rewards (days off, flex time, gummi bears, you name it). But it doesn’t always need to be something so tangible. It can also be as simple as saying the right words at the right time.

I started thinking about this a lot after a recent meeting with my supervisor. I’m excited, motivated and energized by my restart on my work. It’s going better (even if the rate of progress has started to slow) then it was before. And I think I might be where I was/ahead by the end of the week. However, when I walked out of my meeting, I went from those excited, motivated and energized feelings to ones of depression, unmotivated and exhausted. Why? All because of how my supervisor reacted (or, in some sense didn’t react) to my update.

So, what did he do? He was just really underwhelmed in all senses. He barely even reacted when I told him, except to say “oh, I guess it’s an okay time to do that” and “this will cause a delay.” Both of those are true (although I’m not sure the delay will be that big or even significant). But I was hoping for some enthusiasm. Some “wow, this looks even better and I think this is great.” Or “You’ve done all this in x amount of time? Let’s see what you can get done by Tuesday.” Those (for me) would have been greatly motivating.

Now, let me be clear. I’m not “blaming” my supervisor for how I felt. But, it made me start to think about how we go about motivating others. And how, had my supervisor reacted just slightly differently, I could have walked out of that meeting even more determined to make progress, and make it quickly.

There’s not a single right way to motivate people. Everyone responds differently to different motivators. I know that I hate to fail – and so having a goal like doing my daily Pomodoros is great for that. I don’t want to fall off, and so I’m motivated to keep on top of them so that I don’t. I also like challenges. So if my supervisor had stated that he’s looking forward to see what I can get accomplished in the next few days, I’d have been motivated to push as hard as I could.

I think part of what bugged me about this meeting, is that I’ve had the same supervisor for years now, and I thought he and I knew each other better. I thought (hoped?) that he had picked up over the years what type of motivation I respond to. Now, it just may have been a bad day for him. And it may have just been a bad day for me. But, it points out how important it is to start to learn and recognize this stuff about yourself.

Before, I wouldn’t have been able to figure out what exactly bugged me about that meeting. But this time, I knew exactly why I was feeling the way I was. And because of that, I was able to reframe his comments (or, more accurately put them aside), and not focus on what he said. Instead, I focused on what I wanted to accomplish. And have been using that to keep me going.

However, as we move (way to) quickly towards another summer, where I will likely end up supervising another student, I think this is important to think about. I need to start thinking about this when I’m the supervisor. After all, I don’t want any future students to feel the way I did. I’d rather they walk out of meetings and be ready for the next step. Grad school does enough to depress people, without anyone adding on.


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