Motivational styles, which are the basic building blocks of human experience in Reversal Theory (Apter), are a form of mental state. As they change, so do our emotions and our behaviour.
Let’s explore motivational styles in more detail.
Motivational Styles as mental states
The idea of motivational styles as mental states is an important one. It’s a very different way of looking at motivation. Rather than simply seeing motivation as the drive behind goal-directed behaviour, motivational styles are like lenses through which we see the world. They colour our perception of events, and this changes our emotional experience. The role of mental states is well described by Anaïs Nin‘s famous quote:
We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.
This means that as we move between different motivational styles, not only do we see things quite differently, but we feel and behave very differently too.
Motivational Styles as dynamic elements of personality
We’ve just touched on another key aspect of Reversal Theory, which is that our motivations are dynamic. They are always on the move. These movements are, to a certain extent, situational. Motivational styles are definitely influenced by the situation we’re in – for example, if we sense danger, we’re with certain people and so on. But research has also shown that we can experience the same things very differently at different times. One moment I might like loud rock music. The next I might find it irritating and look for something calmer.
Apter’s view of personality is similar. As our motivations change, so we become different people. Therefore our personality is dynamic, which is a different view to trait psychology.
There are eight of these motivational styles, organised into four oppositional pairs. We ‘reverse’ between styles in these pairs over time, like a series of binary switches that guide our emotional experience and actions. And so, rather than describing personality in terms of the style we prefer to use (type) or where we sit on a continuum (trait), Reversal Theory recognises that at any moment we’re either one or the other within each pair. This is true, even if we have a tendency to spend more time in one style over another. This tendency, which we call dominance, does not exclude us from being able to access the opposite style.
What are the eight motivational styles?
As mentioned, there are eight motivational styles, which are organised as four oppositional pairs Each of these pairs, or domains, reflects one element of experience. We call these domains and they are: Means & Ends; Rules; Orientation and Transaction. Furthermore, Means & Ends and Rules relate to activities (our internal world), while Orientation and Transactions relate to relationships (our external world). These are reflected in the two lenses of the glasses that the Apter toolkit uses as a metaphor (below).
Serious and Playful: How we experience Means & Ends
In the Serious style we are concerned with making progress towards goals or ends. We value Achievement, we plan ahead and defer satisfaction until the goal is achieved. We are sensation- and risk-avoiding.
In the Playful style, however, we value Enjoyment. We seek sensations and new experiences, are spontaneous and open to risk. While we may be working towards a goal, the activity in that moment means more to us.
Conforming and Rebellious: How we deal with Rules
In the Conforming style we tend to be concerned with staying within the rules (which may be unwritten social rules or norms). We value Fitting In, and seek structure, clarity and affiliation.
In the Rebellious style, however, we value Freedom and seek to express difference, question and challenge norms, rules or conventions.
Self and Other: Whose needs we Orientate towards
In the Self-oriented style we value Individualism and are motivated by our own needs or interests. We perceive events according to how they impact us as individuals.
In the Other-oriented style, however, we value Collectivism and are motivated by the needs and interests of others (including society). We perceive events according to how they impact upon others, or the collective.
Mastery and Sympathy: How we perceive Transactions
In the Mastery style we value and seek Power and Control (including competence). We are competitive, disciplined and take responsibility. We perceive interactions as a form of contest.
In the Sympathy state, however, we value Harmony, seeking caring relationships and emotional connection. We perceive interaction in terms of relationships.
Which Motivational Styles are optimal?
All of the motivational styles have an important role to play in life. All can have positive or negative implications. Each has its own contribution to make in work and life. The Serious style contributes planning and risk management; while the Playful style contributes spontaneity and openness to change. The Conforming style contributes structure and process, while the Rebellious style is where change is initiated and diverse views are encouraged. Self-orientation contributes personal responsibility; Other, to team-work and customer care. Sympathy contributes to empathy and compassion; Mastery, to competence and competitiveness.
Motivational Styles in development
Because Motivational Styles are dynamic, and all are potentially important, personal development is based on three basic questions:
1) Can I access all of motivational styles that I need on a day-to-day basis to be happy and productive?
2) Can I match my motivational styles to the situation at hand, so that I’m effective and satisfied?
3) Better still, do I have the right skills to make the most of my motivational styles?
These questions are also, essentially, at the heart of team development and leadership development using motivational styles, with different emphasis.