The Bagg Group on the difference 4 words can make


All things being equal, what motivates people to take a job and stay with it?

Having interviewed hundreds of thousands of candidates over our 40-year history, we know that while people have all kinds of needs for their work, everything comes down to a few key desires.

Our finding has been confirmed by leading experts on motivation, Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci.  They recognize there are three basic human needs that truly motivate us.

  1. Competence:  People want to feel they’re able to do something, and do it well. The experts say there has to be enough challenge to allow people to take pride in their accomplishment– if it’s too easy, we don’t get a sense of achievement.
  2. Autonomy:  People thrive when they have a sense of control over their work, even within the boundaries of their job.
  3. Connection:  We’re social beings who like to feel that what we do connects us to others, and matters.

At The Bagg Group, we have successfully placed almost 60,000 people in full-time, contract and temporary placements over the years.  We make it our business to understand the needs of companies inside and out so we can make the right match.

So we’re aware that there are many positions where — on the surface — it would seem difficult for employees to exercise their basic need for autonomy.

But after interviewing umpteen candidates, we’ve learned that it’s not so much what you ask people to do  —  (everyone knows a job comes with demands) — but how you ask them that gives people a sense of control over their work life.

Probably the most popular and successful technique to emphasize autonomy when asking employees to do a task is known as “But You are Free …” (BYAF).

Essentially, with this technique, when making a request, you emphasize that the person is free to make decisions– to either to fulfill the demand or not, or how, or when, etc.

This technique has been deemed so powerful that is has been the subject of no less than 42 studies.  Every one of the studies shows that the technique doubles the chance that someone will say ‘yes’ to the request – and/or do it more willingly.

It has been shown that it doesn’t matter which specific words you use to acknowledge the notion of choice when making a request.  Some of the studies have used words such as “But don’t feel obliged to … .  Others may qualify the request by adding , “Do it as you feel is best.”

The technique is more powerful when used in a face-to-face.  While it is somewhat effective in an email, the research shows it doesn’t have quite the same impact.

The bottom line is that nobody wants to be dictated to.   Acknowledging a person choice, respects their basic need for autonomy.  And when you give people the chance to do what they’re good at (competence), and make their own decisions along the way (autonomy), you’re relating to them (connection) — and that goes a long way to increasing their job satisfaction. 

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