Is work about getting results no matter what?  Or is it the quality of working relationships that really leads to success?  We each have deep motivational preferences that drive our behaviour and focus our attention.  If they are neglected or ignored they can lead to problems that undermine understanding and success. 

I was recently listening to a misunderstanding between two Directors.  One of them, let’s call her Linda, was frustrated by a particular member of staff not achieving the required results.  Linda is not his line manager but she was talking about him to the other Director, let’s call her Maria, who is his line manager.

The conversation went something like this:

Linda: “The Office Manager is not producing the results we need.”
Maria: “Tom is doing the best he can, he looks overwhelmed and I don’t feel I can put more pressure on him.”
Linda: “The business will suffer if staff don’t pull their weight.”
Maria: “I’m concerned that we are giving him too much and need to be careful that we don’t stress him out and lose him.”
Linda: “This business can’t afford passengers, line managers need to performance manage their staff more to ensure objectives are set and met.  We have a disciplinary process for dealing with poor performance.”
Maria: “What are you trying to say?  That I’m a bad manager?”
Linda: “Don’t be so emotional, that’s not what I meant!”

This polarised conversation was beginning to upset both Directors and I could see how Linda was getting frustrated and Maria was getting defensive and angry – it was going to get personal.   The increasing intensity was preventing either of them from using their emotional intelligence to see what was happening.

Rude reminders
A few years ago (more than a few actually – more like 15!) when I was still in my first year as a Training and Development Manager at the Waldorf Hotel in London I was called into the General Manager’s office.  He told me that he couldn’t see any results from the work I was doing to implement Investors in People.  I was very shocked because I was building good relationships with all the managers and persuading them to do the basic HR stuff like clarify job descriptions, give regular feedback to staff, set them some objectives and check if any development to improve their performance was needed.  It was a hard slog, but they were all very busy and the stuff I was asking them to do still seemed a bit abstract.   Since I had been on the front line as a chef in very busy kitchens back in the 80’s I was able to empathise with them very easily (maybe too easily!).

However, I was rudely reminded by the GM that unless he saw some results, it was either me that was not doing my job properly or it was the managers . . . and he made the consequences pretty clear!

Relationships and Results
I quickly realised that I was more concerned with how the managers were feeling than the results I was producing.  At that time the quality of the relationships I had was the ‘result’ I was focussing on.  I wanted people to be happy at work and I was focussing on making them feel better.

The meeting with the GM dramatically shifted my perspective.  My job was to produce not only happy staff, but tangible results, and if the GM didn’t see them I was in trouble.  I realised that he was under immense pressure to turn the figures of the Hotel around and that I was being far too ‘touchy – feely’ for him. 

Fortunately, I was able to adapt my language and behaviour to what was required for the GM.  I set up systems to measure processes and objectives so I could report facts and figures to him on a regular basis.  I was able to manage his expectations and any under-performing managers had to explain themselves to him.  They would then come to me for coaching and help, and many of them suddenly became a lot more motivated to learn about HR!

Person Vs Thing
It was all about balancing the GM’s strong task orientation and my people orientation.  In Language and Behavioural Profile (LAB Profile) terms this is the balance between ‘Person’ and ‘Thing’.

In 1997 the Hotel won ‘Best London Hotel’ from the English Tourist Board and we upgraded from 4 stars to 5 stars with the AA and RAC (we also achieved IiP Recognition).  Looking back it’s clear that I was initially focussing on ‘People’ – they were my results, where the GM was focussing on ‘Tasks’ or ‘Things’ i.e. achieving his targets.

In certain jobs like Customer Service and Reception you want to employ people with a high ‘person’ orientation.  However, sales people with this pattern sometimes find it hard to ‘close the deal’ – they love building the relationship and lose sight of the task; making the sale.  Likewise, meetings that go off on tangents are often chaired by people who become interested in the ‘experience of the story’ and don’t want to create a bad feeling by getting things back on track.

On the other hand some people, like Linda, focus purely on the task.  They don’t consider people’s feelings at all and may hurt or embarrass others through relentlessly making everything – including the people they are speaking with – into an object.  Linda refers to Job Roles rather than people, she always refers to the Processes and Procedures; this can make some people feel dehumanised and alienated.  It’s worth noting that almost half the population like and want some degree of relationship at work to feel motivated.

Like anything in life, it’s about being aware of your preferences and adapting to what is required.  Some people will respond better if you acknowledge their feelings and then move on to the task in hand.  Others will feel awkward and embarrassed if you focus too much on how they feel.

The key is to listen to how they are speaking.  Notice the difference in the words Linda and Maria were using.  The lack of acknowledgement that the other person is seeing things from a different perspective leads to judgements and personalised accusations. E.g. “You are so Cold Hearted” or “Soft and Fluffy” depending on your preference!  This only leads to more upset and defensiveness.

Did you notice how you felt when you read the above interaction?  Read it again now and notice which position you relate to or who you empathise with.  This may give you a clue to your current orientation!

In her book ‘Words that Change Minds’ Shelle Rose Charvet refers to the research done by Rodger Bailey which states that in the pattern of “Emphasis on Person vs. Thing” in a work context the following were identified:

• 15% of the population are ‘Person’ oriented:  They focus on thoughts, feelings and people.  They will pay attention to what they are feeling and the feelings of others.  They will tend to use people’s names and use personal pronouns i.e. he, she.
• 55% are ‘Thing’ oriented:  They focus on products, ideas, tasks and systems.  They will talk about processes, tasks, goals, results (Things).  They will not mention people often and perhaps only as impersonal pronouns i.e. they, you or one.
• 30% are oriented towards both and need a combination of them to feel motivated.

What’s your orientation? 
What is the orientation of your Managers, Staff or your Clients?  Do you have the flexibility to adapt your language and behaviour?  Are you alienating some of them with your preference?

In order to influence ‘Person’ oriented people, use names and talk about feelings and experiences.  Use personal pronouns and discuss likes and dislikes, what feels good or bad. . .

For ‘Thing’ people discuss the systems, goals, processes and tasks.  Use impersonal pronouns and talk about the ‘things’ that need to be done and ‘results’ that need to be achieved.

Are you selling your products or services to help your clients get results or to feel better?  Which are you emphasising?  Is it the right match for their orientation and preference?

In the end when Linda and Maria began to realise that they were simply speaking from different patterns and motivated by different preferences they were able to stop judging each other and work together by playing to each other’s strengths.   While Linda was good at driving the business to achieve it’s challenging targets, Maria used her ‘Person’ preference to make sure people were engaged with the business, felt part of a team and that they were valued for their contribution.

By becoming more aware of your patterns and the patterns of your colleagues it becomes possible to understand them, predict their behaviour in a given context and to influence them by matching your language with their patterns.

For information about how to discover the motivational patterns of your people just click here.

Remember  . . . Stay Curious!

With best regards
David Klaasen

David Klaasen is director and owner of the niche HR consultancy, Inspired Working Ltd.  (
If you have a communication or performance problem and would like some objective advice drop him a line at
[email protected].