Avoid Motivating Game Players

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I have worked for a long time in the motivation and performance arena, and as a result have used a lot of tools and diagnostics to enable people to become self-aware and more energised. These tools and processes are generally good, all having positive in them, and some are amazing; and it is the amazing ones that most concern me in that suppose they work? Let me be more specific; suppose they work on people who are in fact serial game-players? Does that change them? Well, in my experience, not usually! The expression I like to use is: avoid motivating the game players. Motivating game players is like throwing petrol on a fire – it makes the fire worse. Or even more subtly, it’s like putting petrol in a car engine – it only makes the car – and the game – run!

I don’t know the exact number but I suspect it’s somewhere between 10-20% of any population that consists of game players. You find them in any gathering of people – especially in the work place, social institutions, and clubs that you may belong to. And of course, and alas, you gamer finder find them nearer at hand: in your own family and friends from time to time. The key way to spot them is not to look at all; instead, it is to feel them. Their presence is always accompanied by a discernible drain of energy on your part; you come away having engaged them in some conversation or, worse, activity, and you feel that they have taken something from you. This is because, according to Eric Berne, author of Games People Play (1964), “Every game… is basically dishonest”. The person playing the game wants what Berne calls ‘the payoff’ – the satisfaction felt from the desired and entirely predictable outcome, which is entirely in their favour: they get you to react in a way which confirms their belief system, or to behave in a way that makes you feel guilty, or do something for them which acknowledges their specialness or their superiority.

The other day I had my hair cut. As I sat waiting, I noticed outside a heavily overweight woman on crutches stamp by the window. In a minute she went back the other way. At least three or four times she went back and forth. At last it was my turn; I sat in the chair having my hair done. Now I noticed in the mirror that the same woman was poised outside the shop. She seemed to attempt to cross the road once or twice, but always made her way back. There is a pedestrian crossing literally 12 feet further up the street from the shop.

I got up to pay. My barber seemed preoccupied looking out of the window. The woman was still there. I said, “That woman seems to be hanging around your shop, B”.

“Yes,” he said sadly. “She lives in the neighbouring house. She’s always arguing with her husband. She’s done this before – I don’t know why she doesn’t use the crossing. I don’t know her – she came in and asked me to drive her to Brockenhurst [about 15 or so miles away] and said she would pay for petrol. I said I couldn’t,” he smiled sadly.

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