What Is Motivational Conflict?

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Motivation in the workplace looks at “why.” Why does one employee thrive in a particular task while another stumbles? Why does Candidate A go all out to earn a position while Candidate B shows no interest? The employee’s motivation guides his decisions and actions. The employee suffers from motivational conflict when the desire to act conflicts with some other emotion or motivation. There are three main types of motivational conflict theory that business owners should be aware of: Approach-Avoidance, Approach-Approach and Avoidance-Avoidance.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

An employee suffers from motivational conflict when the desire to act conflicts with some other emotion or motivation. There are three main types of motivational conflict theory that business owners should be aware of: Approach-Avoidance, Approach-Approach and Avoidance-Avoidance.

Motivational Conflict: Approach/Avoidance

Approach/avoidance describes the response of an employee whose desire for the higher salary of a promotion is countered by reluctance to take on more responsibility or to change hours. The employee is motivated but can't take the next step to move forward. Unless the promised reward increases beyond the desire to avoid the change, the employee may remain caught in a dilemma and unable to act.

The Approach/Approach Motivational Conflict

When confronted with two equally attractive choices, the employee may be caught in an approach/approach conflict. Unless she can find some reason to choose one situation over the other, she may be unable to move forward. A choice between seniority in one position or being a more junior member of a department working on a project of great interest to her in another slot exemplifies this type of conflict. Some sort of additional reason is needed to help her to take the next step to get out of the conflict.

The Avoidance/Avoidance Motivational Conflict

Two equally undesirable choices trigger an avoidance/avoidance conflict. The employee must choose between two unwanted outcomes. This situation occurs in poor economies when management asks staff to accept salary cuts or work longer hours. The choice becomes a case of “the lesser of two evils” rather than “best choice.”

The Benefits of Applying Motivational Conflict Psychology

By applying principles of motivational conflict theory to find a resolution, an employer or manager can use company resources to his best advantage. Supply the employee with what she needs to make a decision in the company’s favor. The solution may take other forms than financial remuneration. In the types of motivational conflicts examples above, the first employee may be willing to take on the greater workload if his work schedule can allow him to spend less time on the commute by traveling off-peak hours or telecommuting one day a week.

The second one might decide to stay where her seniority will best benefit the company if she can consult on the interesting project. Realizing that no job is less desirable than the other two options may help employees agree to work longer hours without an increase in pay.

Using Motivational Conflict Theory to Strengthen the Workforce

An employer can use the awareness of motivational conflict psychology to build a stronger workforce. Discuss the situation with the employee and learn which of the three situations best describes his feelings. Take steps to shift the equilibrium of the conflict and allow him to make a decision. Use an understanding of motivational conflict theory to negotiate a solution. If one of the outcomes is more beneficial to the company, how can management make that the more desirable choice?

Be aware that not every situation affords a tidy solution. Some conflicts cannot be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Use discretion when negotiating through the situations. Seek a mutually beneficial outcome.

References

About the Author

Mary Beth Magee began her writing career with an article in the "New Orleans Times-Picayune" more than 40 years ago. She has been published in local and national media, including "Real Estate Today" and "Just Praising God." Magee holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology, with a focus on adult learning, from Elmhurst College.

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