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The Impact of Harmony vs. Practicality

By Daniel Bobinski

Did you know that people can be motivated – or demotivated – simply by their surroundings?

This article is the third in a series about the six learned (extrinsic) motivators. In the first installment, I examined the different ways people are motivated by knowledge. Last month, we looked at how tangible things – including money – may or may not motivate us. In this third installment, we’ll look at the different ways we are driven by our surroundings.

The motivational spectrum of surroundings

At one end of the surroundings scale are people we call harmonious. They’re driven to succeed in environments that have balance, whether it is aesthetic, relational, or both, and they thrive when they can create or work in harmonious environments. At the other end of the scale are people more concerned about functionality. People scoring strongly here are called objective, and their productivity is enhanced when they can arrange their environment in the most practical way possible.

All people value their surroundings, they just value surroundings in different ways.

Traits of a harmonious person

People favoring the harmonious end of the surroundings spectrum value and enjoy beauty and balance, and they derive fulfillment when they can create or enjoy harmony in their environment and their relationships.

Consider a woman who worked in a call center who was considered an average performer. When a cubical became available near a window, she requested it. Her supervisor was hesitant, fearing the woman would stare out the window and daydream, causing her to become less productive. But another supervisor, one familiar with motivational styles, recommended the move, so the woman was given the cubical on a trial basis. Three months later, energized by being able to look out at the trees and squirrels and birds while she worked, the woman’s productivity had increased by 30 percent.

Traits of an objective person

People on the objective side of the surroundings spectrum are not distracted by a lack of balance, focusing instead on practicality and functionality of what’s around them. Environments that might seem chaotic to some are of no concern to an objective person, so long as a desired outcome can be achieved. In fact, if harmony supersedes functionality, productivity can suffer.

Consider a short-order cook who arranged his cooking utensils functionally, according to how often he used them. When the restaurant hired another cook, one with a strong harmonious score, the new cook rearranged all the pots, pans and utensils so they were visually balanced. The next day, when the first cook came in, he found the new arrangement impractical.

The differences on this motivational scale can be problematic when an organization implements Six Sigma, the data-driven standardization approach for eliminating defects and gaining optimal continuous improvement. When personalization is removed from a workplace, the goal of performance improvement may actually backfire, diminishing the productivity of those with strong harmonious drivers.

By way of reminder, it’s easy to say one motivator is bad while another is good. I always urge people to value the differences rather than criticize them.

Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach Daniel through his website,, or his office: (208) 375-7606.



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