In a previous article I talked about Motivational Needs and how leaders can motivate or de-motivate their colleagues and teams using psychological rewards or threats against fundamental values such as fairness, significance, variation, certainty, autonomy and connection.  Now I wanted to move away from the leadership skills and review what you can do as an individual if you yourself are feeling psychologically threatened and demotivated.

Part of our brain (the Amygdala) monitors for threats (physical or perceived), checking against similar experiences that you need to be wary of and/or setting us up to take action.  When active examples include the fight or flight response, anxiety, negative memories.  When this is inactive, you feel safe and secure.

Another part (the Ventral Striatum) is looking out for rewards/pleasure, what you want to do more of, safety and security.  When this is inactive, you don’t feel very rewarded or motivated.

Both of these are regulated up and down in relation to one another, depending on the situation.  Sometimes you need the threat response to be at a  higher level (eg. if there’s an oncoming lorry and you need to get out of the way), sometimes you want a balance between the two (eg. going on a scary ride, where there’s fear and exhilaration) and sometimes you need to feel safer and secure in your situation (to be more creative, innovative, make decisions).

Take an example from my past when my boss would often (deliberately sometimes) aim to get me angry, but that anger expressed wouldn’t have been appropriate.  My boss once said to me that he could tell if I was angry as I went very quiet.  In actual fact, when I was really angry, I’d get tearful, which was very annoying and the last thing that I wanted him to see!!! So it was easier to control it by staying quiet (physically clenching my jaw together).  Now I know what was happening in my mind and have much better techniques for handling this kind of situation.

CocktailGetting the right balance of emotions appropriate for the occasion is important, taking control of the regulation between the two parts of the brain.  When I discuss this with my clients, I often use the analogy of a cocktail.  There’s a useful cocktail of emotions for every occasion, or there’s a bitter tasting cocktail that’s just not helpful!  So you’ve got to get the right mix of all the different emotions available to you.

For example, if you are feeling threatened and your mind has gone blank, heart racing, anxiety overwhelm, can’t seem to make a decision, then you need to adjust the measures: lower the “threat” measures and increase “reward”.  If you are sitting back, letting the world go by, not pushing for change even though you know there could be better possibilities out there, you may need to reduce the “reward” emotions that are keeping you feeling safe and secure in your current situation and explore a bit of uncertainty, your un-utilised talents and calculated risks.

If you find in a business situation that you are going through a psychologically threatening time (eg when you’re feeling  angry, insecure, uncertain, anxious, demotivated etc), then here are a few ways to increase the “reward” (simultaneously reducing the “threat”) to balance the cocktail of emotions to make it more appropriate and help you deal with the situation you are in.

  • Calm yourself with deep breathing.
  • Identify and label the emotions that you are feeling in the situation. This helps to stop the emotion escalating and going into overwhelm.
  • Ask yourself what motivational needs might be being threatened.
  • Reframe – what other way can I look at this?  Very important step, this one.
  • Focus on the positive, what could you get out of this situation, what are the rewards?
  • Utilise other people as positive resource by thinking about how they might behave in this situation.
  • After the event, write down a description of the situation that triggered the negative thoughts.   Then review again and identify fair, balanced thoughts about the situation.  Discuss with others if it helps.
  • What might you want to do differently next time? Can you identify patterns of behaviour from particular individuals you are working with which you can be better prepared for next time?

Becoming aware of this, I’ve decided to become an experimental “cocktail” maker!  We can’t guarantee we’ll get it right every time, but we can have a good go!!  How about you?


If you are interested in how Executive Coaching can help develop leadership skills, communication skills and a better understanding of the impact of motivational needs and conflict in teams, then please get in contact.

1 Comment

  1. Karen

    Thanks to Brian Cunningham on Linked In: “Excellent article, apt and very helpful thanks!”

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