Motivating teens, partners and co-workers is much the same

I've seen teenagers get accused of being the laziest creatures on earth. I've also heard others complain they don't know how to motivate their partners to do certain things.

Yet, these same people have instinctive abilities to motivate little ones by tapping into everyone's need for a sense of achievement. Each little milestone is praised, which makes the child feel good and can motivate them to have a go at the next thing.

Weirdly though, as people grow we use this psychological trait less and less at an interpersonal level. But why?

Obviously the challenges need to be genuine and the praise needs to be genuine as well, not patronising, and not a backhanded shaming of others either. But if you need to motivate a student, subordinate or equal, you need to pay enough attention to notice that they've either done something for the first time, or done it really well (side note; smaller achievements get harder to keep track of the bigger a class or group gets).

I've used this myself while training young people for their first jobs and when coaching drivers on the skidpan, and the technique is exactly the same. It doesn't matter if they're male or female either, or what age they are, or what they're learning.

As I wrote when I pointed out that rats can learn to drive a custom vehicle, the teaching method I use for humans is, after clearly explaining and demonstrating what to do, to praise what they do well first, then kindly correct their errors, and get them to have another go. Just rinse and repeat (more praise, more kindly-delivered corrections), and progressively build up their ability and knowledge plus their respect and confidence.

At a fundamental level, gaming developers also know that you have an underlying need for a sense of achievement, and if a gaming experience is addictive, it's because this human trait has also been tapped into with psychological rewards and many micro-achievements built into it.

This need for a sense of achievement is also quite apparent at car events.

If it's racing, it's obvious what the goal is. Finish the event or series as high as you can in your class with the resources, knowledge and skills available to you.

The recognition or appreciation of others motivates us all our lives. Photo: Shutterstock

The recognition or appreciation of others motivates us all our lives. Photo: Shutterstock

For car shows though, the individual goal varies. It could be anything from a show and shine award to a burnout competition to just showing off to whomever is watching when driving on the cruise (or Powercruise) route.

In each case, the need for the recognition of others - and it might just be cheering or some other informal acknowledgement like nice comments or taking some pics of your efforts - is the underlying motivation to spend all that time, money and effort preparing, as well as the motivation for entering an event with spectators rather than just doing some laps at a track day. This is also the basic premise behind the home game advantage in team sports; having the crowd mostly cheering for your side.

Advertisers also know this, and often use the recognition of others to sell vehicles. As I wrote in the story on cars being a marker of social status, the depictions they have used include turning heads on the street, making you sexually desirable, or claiming that a particular style, brand or model is generally popular with everyone. And cleverly, Chrysler's Hey Charger campaign of the '70s achieved all of these at once.

In sim racing, it's the currency on which people operate when creating new content (cars and tracks) for free and sharing it with others. Giving it a five star rating, offering a nice comment and just generally appreciating their work is the exact reward that makes them feel good about themselves and keeps them doing it for hours on end (many thousands in the case of scratch-made tracks).

The negative method of shaming works too, but that should be reserved for large groups or entire demographics, and even then only in very specific cases like the old NSW Pinky campaign which flipped the perceived notion of showing off on public streets into the belief that any male doing that was compensating for a small penis.

At an interpersonal level though, you probably want the person to feel good about you, so stick to methods that make them feel good about themselves.

This story Motivating teens, partners and co-workers is much the same first appeared on The Canberra Times.