Understanding Others’ Motivations is a Key to Building Better Relationships
Understanding others’ deep-held motivations involves recognizing what drives them, why and how they want to work, work styles they may adopt in various circumstances, and what levers you have to motivate them.
Take for example Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a motivation hypothesis used widely for several decades now. Represented as a pyramid, this hypothesis proposes that people are motivated to fulfill basic subconscious desires such as food and shelter before trying to fulfill higher-level needs such as affection and prestige. Even though academics have extensively debated its specifics, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has provided a handy framework to value the multifaceted composition of human motivation and to understand how to engage others.
The Relationship between Your Own Vision of Success and Your Parental Influence
One less-known framework for understanding the provenance of people’s life goals—their deep-seated aspirations for want to achieve in life—is the “Psychic Contract” hypothesis, a concept that dominates The Anatomy of a Great Executive (1991) by John Wareham, a leadership psychologist from New Zealand.
According to Wareham, a psychic contract is a set of “deals” we subconsciously strike with our parents early in life. Our life-goals are defined primarily by our own vision of what our parents achieved—and what they failed to achieve:
As we grow we absorb the values of our parents, and are conditioned to improve (albeit marginally) upon their achievements. We strike a psychic contract with them whereby “success” in life is defined by the attainment of a similar social positioning, which we later embark upon attaining, sometimes very consciously, but often entirely unconsciously.
Throughout our lives, we unintentionally adhere to our psychic contracts, despite the limitations they place on us. We use our psychic contracts to not only define and approach our life goals but also think about how we measure success.
We consciously measure success in terms of milestones and standards instilled by our parents.
As a rule of thumb, about three quarters or more of people in westernized culture seek first to equal, then marginally to improve upon the lifestyle or status level perceived to exist in the childhood home.
Psychic Contract Theory: Children are Programmed to Want to Do as Well as or Better Than Their Parents
In The Anatomy of a Great Executive, Wareham goes into depth explaining how we can know our own psychic contracts and how we can reset our goals to give ourselves permission to succeed. Here are some other prominent learning points:
- Our psychic contract is based on our birth order, our parents’ birth order, and roles we play relative to our parents in our families.
- The so-called “prime parental injunction” sits at the heart of our conscious. We go through our lives trying to become the people our parents wanted us to be. Even people who spend their lives trying to become exactly the opposite of what their parents wished are still influenced by this injunction.
- Every person has a pre-programmed financial comfort level. Most of us strive to reach this level; but once there, we slow down—not because we are lazy, but because we have fulfilled our inner desires and don’t need more. Wareham cites the example of commission-based sales people who, after earning adequate commission to reach their financial comfort level, tend to be less aggressive in selling cars to customers for the rest of the month.
Idea for Impact: “Psychic Contract” is a handy and thought provoking—if unsubstantiated—hypothesis to understand how your and other people’s deep-seated life goals are established. It can give you one more data point in trying to figure people out.