Understanding Motivation

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Why do people play poker or any other game in life? 

Whether it’s just to win money, for the adrenaline rush of jumping into the action, or just to be social, figuring out why people do what they do can provide you with critical information. A social player isn’t going to mind if you take some of their money, and you’ll play differently against them than against someone whose goal is to make a big profit on the evening. 

Understanding who’s playing and why is a crucial component in devising a winning strategy. 

This is true in business as well. Effective leaders instinctively question the motivations in the personal interactions they have. Understanding whether someone’s motivation is power, money or relationship-building offers you a key advantage in satisfying their needs, and they in turn will be more likely to satisfy yours.

If you have a boss whose goal is to keep everybody happy, you’re going to behave and manage them differently than if you have a boss whose sole purpose is to get promoted, or to outshine a peer. The better you understand other people’s motivations, the better you can adapt or decide to move on where the fit is better.

Motivation is also key in deciding if you even want to play in an arena at all. 

If you’re working for somebody who doesn’t like to make waves and you’re an innovator, it’s not a good match. Conversely, if you’re working for somebody who is motivated strictly by getting ahead and wants to work 24/7, but you’re more interested in quality of life, that’s not a good match either.

When sitting down at a poker table, conference table, or even lunch with friends, ask the following:

  • What motivates those around you?
    • Observe how they interact with you and each other and carefully consider what they are trying to accomplish. Test your assumptions and see if they hold up. 
  • Are these motivations in sync with, or complementary to, your own?
    • Just because your boss wants a promotion and you want a comfortable work environment doesn’t mean you can’t work together. It just means you have to find the places where those goals support each other. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
  • What is the best strategy based on your mutual motivations?
    • The better you know and understand whom you are playing with, the better you are able to adapt your behavior to get what you want. 
  • Have anyone’s motivations changed?
    • Both poker and life are constantly changing, and what motivates someone now may be completely irrelevant later. Watch for those changes and be ready to adapt your strategy as the game goes along.

Knowing what people want and why they are there is going to help you decide the best approach to any situation. If you want to win consistently at poker or at life, you need to understand what the players are after.

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