What's In It For Me?

The key to making friends, building alliances and enlisting the support of others is simply seeing things from their perspective.

Some people spend their entire lives on a quest to explore and understand the great secrets of the universe. However, this dedicated seeking of universal knowledge stuff was merely the runner up in the recent Hardest Questions in the World contest. If you want a truly intimidating challenge, forget about all those scholarly pursuits. The greatest mystery of life is human nature.

Attempting to understand what motivates and drives the average person is, for many, the holy grail of personal wisdom. Although it's usually more dramatic to save insights for the very end of the story, in this particular case I'm going to break the rules and tell you up front. If you want to know the secret to understanding and motivating your fellow humans, it's spelled out for you in the title of today's little adventure: what's in it for me?

Regardless of whether you're trying to motivate an entire nation or just your next door neighbor, you'll find that if you think from their perspective and ask this one seemingly innocuous question, it will completely overhaul the plan that you were about to put into motion.

It's not my intention to imply that the human race is devoid of kind, thoughtful or selfless souls who go out and do good things in the world just for the joy of doing them. However, at the heart of each and every person, no matter how deeply it may be buried under other more altruistic inclinations, lies the seed of self interest.

Lest you think that this is a bad thing, I'd like to point out that without this most basic of instincts, you would lack the skills necessary to survive. Whether it's dodging the occasional saber toothed tiger or coping with an increasingly complex modern society, people don't live very long without considering their own health and well being.

For the more noble among you, I'd like to point out that you're not much good to anyone else if you manage to become a mid morning snack for a large, furry feline. Therefore, this instinct for self interest is not only a common trait, but also a very necessary one. Additionally, those who live benevolent lives, helping others and interacting in a kind and considerate way, do so because it feels good. Consequently, the same maxim applies, both to the noble and the less scrupulous.

As you might have guessed by now, appreciating what's in it for the other guy in order to get him to go along with your desires is not a one size fits all proposition. Humans are extremely complex creatures who exhibit in their personalities the interaction of a great many influences in their personalities. Because of this, you need to understand a little about the person you're dealing with in order to know what will properly motivate them. This isn't as hard as you might think.

It's so easy for us to get into the habit of focusing on our own point of view that we don't realize how much others will tell us about their hopes, fears and desires if we would but ask. This means that one of the most fundamental skills you should develop is the ability to truly listen to what others communicate, both verbally and non verbally. Even the smallest of efforts in this regard will yield a veritable cornucopia of useful insights.

Once you've taken the time to learn what's important to each individual, the rest is easy. When soliciting their support or interaction, just make sure your first step is to stop and ask yourself what's in it for them to go along with you?

If you can't come up with a good answer to this question, you should immediately reevaluate your plan. Ventures based on one way streets inevitably fall apart, usually at the most inconvenient moment. When you pursue your desires in a way that benefits all involved, your dreams are built to last.

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