Well-Being//

Relationships and Divergent Motivational Styles

What can you do when an unpleasant emotional response is triggered in an interaction with someone who has a style that is different than your own?

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Intimate and work relationships can be challenging when the people involved have different styles of getting things done. If you’ve been in one or more of those relationships and are aware of the challenges, you may be tempted to defend the merits of your own motivational style as you read this chapter. So before you get to that point, for the time being put yourself into the psyche of people who do things differently. You do not have to accept their way of doing things, but only consider their perspective.

Undoubtedly, the behavior of people with a motivational style that differs from your own can be annoying or even trigger your anger. There may have been times when you avoided interacting with them or withdrew and did not communicate much while collaborating on a project. Just as a task or a deadline can activate emotions, the behavior of other people, especially those who complete tasks differently than you do, may also be a stimulus that triggers uncomfortable emotions in you. As with all emotions, you are provided with information and motivation to take action. However, in interpersonal situations where emotions speak to you, their vague message can be misinterpreted and responded to in ways that disrupt a bond you have with another person. Navigating through differences in task completion, or anything else, may seem rather difficult at times. Nevertheless, in the process of doing so it’s possible to learn a lot about yourself and better understand someone else who approaches things differently.

What can you do when an unpleasant emotional response is triggered in an interaction with someone who has a style that is different than your own? You can understand your emotional response and effectively communicate with the other person. Later in this chapter I give you some basics for doing so.

Generally, procrastinators and nonprocrastinators often clash based on when something gets done. Usually, such conflict occurs because each person in a relationship has his or her own sense of timing in terms of when something should get done, and each assigns value to it. There is no superior way of getting something done if you evaluate task-completion situations using the criteria that deadlines are met and the completed work reflects the person’s best efforts. High-quality work that is on time is a consistent goal. With this in mind, it is irrelevant whether something is completed on the early side or at the deadline.

Nevertheless, task-driven people often don’t trust a deadline-driven partner or coworker to complete something or do a good job when the deadline is upon them. They also assume procrastinators reap the benefits of task-driven promptness without having to help reduce the workload. In intimate relationships, task-driven people may also assign a particular value to the timing of a procrastinating partner, so they may assume their partner does not care about them enough to get something done right away. A task-driven person, who of course, prefers to make plans in advance, may take personally what he or she perceives as a lack of planning or a failure to make plans as far in advance as is preferable for him or her by someone who is deadline driven. However, in such cases, a deadline-driven person will have his or her own negative response to each other’s differences. Procrastinators have a difficult time understanding the urgency of task-driven people. It appears to them that this urgency is impulsive, interferes with setting priorities, and compromises outcome. They may assume a task-driven partner is trying to make them feel guilty about not immediately participating in a task or is always too busy to interact.

Task-driven parents rarely trust a deadline-driven child to get something done on time. As a result, a task-driven parent may become angry and nag or worry that his or her child will not be successful if the child does not get things done right away. Meanwhile, the deadline-driven child may experience shame or anger in response to shame about a parent’s lack of faith in his or her way of doing things or react negatively to a sense of being overly controlled. As a deadline approaches, the child’s expression of anxiety—the same anxiety that motivates him or her to complete a task successfully—may be met with further anger by the task-driven parent or a lecture that includes “This wouldn’t be happening if you had started earlier.” As well, procrastinating parents may not understand what compels a task-driven child to complete tasks ahead of schedule. They may instead view a child’s task-driven nature as overly anxious or compulsive behavior, especially if the child’s desire to get something done seems to interfere with the parents’ agenda or goal.

Emotions can aid communication in these circumstances, but unfortunately, based on imagination that accompanies feelings, one can run amok with the attributions made to another person’s behavior. In any situation that involves a relationship with another person, making assumptions about his or her behavior—and believing the conclusions you derive from those assumptions—usually leads to conflict because you’ll be wrong. Instead, let’s be interested and curious about what’s going on with a partner or child who approaches the completion of tasks in ways that seem very alien to your own style. In the same way, when you intensely experience an emotion, be interested in and curious about what you are feeling before you jump to conclusions based on what you automatically and cognitively assign to it.

Excepted from: Lamia, Mary (2017). What Motivates Getting Things Done: Procrastination, Emotions, and Success. Roman and Littlefield.

Mary C. Lamia, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, as well as professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, whose passion is to encourage emotional awareness. She is the author of Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings and Understanding Myself: A Kid’s Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings, both of which won the Family Choice Award. She also co-authored The White Knight Syndrome: Rescuing Yourself from Your Need to Rescue Others and a forthcoming book, The Upside of Shame. A sought after speaker, Lamia has provided commentary for media ranging from ABC radio/television, Fox Network, The New York Times, Woman’s Day, and WebMD, to Real Simple, as well as regular blog posts for Psychology Today and Therapy Today

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