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Stories we tell ourselves

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Stoke another person’s internal motivation not with more money, but by understanding and supporting her “story.”

When someone considers whether to do something, she subconsciously asks herself, “Am I the kind of person who ...?” She considers whether it fits into the story she tells herself about herself.

Here’s an example to support the theory:

The AARP asked some lawyers if they would reduce their fee to $30 an hour to help needy retirees. The lawyers said no. Then AARP asked, counterintuitively, whether the lawyers would do it free. The answer was overwhelmingly yes.

In other words, when the lawyers were offered $30 an hour, their question was “Am I the kind of person who works for $30 an hour? No.” But asked to do it as a favor, their new question was “Am I the kind of person who helps people in need?” And the answer was “yes.”

So when trying to get to “yes,” start by asking yourself what story that person is trying to tell about herself. Then make sure your request is playing the right role in her story.

— Adapted from “A Story About Motivation,” Peter Bregman, Harvard Business Review blog.

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