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Struggling to Motivate Employees (or Yourself)? Try Asking These Questions

Amanda Sollman


If you haven't already checked out the 3 ways you're probably thinking about motivation all wrong or the 7 most common motivation blockers we see in professionals of all kinds, do that now – they lay the groundwork so that you can put these tips into practice easily and effectively!

Okay, so now that you're all caught up...

You may be asking, "What the heck do I do about all these motivation blockers?!"

Motivating employees (or yourself) is hard. It's one thing to know that people struggle with motivation for a whole host of reasons; it's an entirely different thing to overcome it. The best approach? Asking questions. Lots of them. Every employee you have has a different set of strengths, interests, motivations and blockers. The only way to uncover what drives them as a unique individual is to ask them.

And – surprise! – we know these questions work, because they're the ones we've used with hundreds of coaching clients to uncover opportunities for growth and the roadblocks that keep people stuck.

Want to learn more about motivation? Check out this free ebook about motivating  employees!

First off - assume clarification is needed

How many times have you given someone directions and then asked, “Do you have any questions?” Probably a lot.

And, in how many of those situations have the respondent(s) said, “No,” or looked at you blankly – just for you to find out a few hours or few days later that they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing? Probably equally as many times.

Far too often, managers rely on employees to come to them if they have questions. Now, on one hand, employees do need to do a better job at asking for what they need – but that’s a different subject for a different day ☺ In the meantime, leaders need to take it upon themselves to collect information that sets our team up for success.

First things first: eliminate the phrase, “Do you have any questions?” from your lexicon. This phrasing insinuates 1) a yes/no response is required and, 2) especially when asked to a group, it can create the sense that someone is being judged for asking questions if no one else is (i.e., "Everyone seems to know what's going on, so I'll look dumb if I ask a question.").

Instead, replace it with, “What questions do you have?” Unlike the earlier approach, “What questions do you have?” insinuates that someone, somewhere in the room has a question and that it’s EXPECTED that they ask it. This approach encourages employees to get clarification where they have none and uncovers areas where you could communicate more effectively as the manager.

Next Up - Become a detective

Once you’ve eliminated "Do you have any questions?" from your vocabulary and replaced it with "What questions do you have?", the next step is to start asking open-ended questions that could uncover a potential motivation blocker. Here are some examples:

Motivation Blocker 1: A lack of clarity.

  • What questions do you have?
  • What next steps will you take?
  • What do you think success looks like?

Motivation Blocker 2: A lack of certainty or confidence.

  • What would you like to learn about that you think could make you more effective in your role?
  • How confident are you in your ability to hit this target?
  • What skills are you missing that could be holding you back from being more successful or going to the next level?

Motivation Blocker 3: The belief that the outcome is out of your control.

  • How realistic do you think it is to hit this sales target?
  • What do you think is the likelihood that, if you do everything perfectly, you’ll be able to hit this goal?
  • What roadblocks do you think you might run into during the process?

Motivation Blocker 4: You don’t care about the outcome.

  • How could we adjust this to make it more valuable for you?
  • What ideas do you have to improve this process?
  • We know that we have to do this task – what would make it more meaningful for you or what would make you more likely to do it?

Motivation Blocker 5: You aren’t being challenged.

  • What projects or new responsibilities would you like to try out?
  • Is there anything in your role that you find boring?
  • What responsibilities get you most excited or energized?

Motivation Blocker 6: Your basic needs aren’t being met.

  • What would make you feel more secure in your future with our organization?
  • What is it about your work that feels meaningful or important?
  • How do you like to be recognized for your achievements?

Motivation Blocker 7: As a manager or organization, you’re pushing the wrong buttons.

  • Do you feel like you’re driven more by rewards or consequences?
  • What types of activities do you feel naturally motivated to do?
  • What type of reward or consequence do you get excited about or avoid like the plague?

When and where to ask questions

So, when and where should you use these questions? The short answer: ANYTIME and EVERYWHERE.

We find these to be great conversations starters for performance reviews, ride-alongs, or when you notice that activity has dropped off. Your goal? Uncover information that could help you get that employee back on the right track.

Give them a try and let us know how it goes in the comments below!

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Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

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