When To Question Someone Else’s Motives

My answer: never. Here's why…

Disputes of almost any kind always seem to devolve when one party questions the motives of another party.

The funny thing is, it's virtually impossible to know for certain someone else's motive for any given action or statement.

“Thought experiment” to see if I'm right: the next time you think you know why someone says or does a particular thing, stop and see if you can come up with 2 or 3 other explanations for why they may have said or done that same thing.

An even more interesting (and instructive) “thought experiment”: try coming up with explanations that are only positive in the motives you attribute to the other person… and then come up with an equal number of explanations that are only negatively motivated. Compare the two lists, and ask yourself: which ones look like the motives I most often instinctively ascribe to other people?

What did you learn?

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at RayEdwards.com.

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  • Very good points… whatever prompted them. We are sometimes so quick to judge other people's motives without a second thought.

    What I've seen as a business consultant though, is that the most successful Fortune 500 companies out there tend to have one thing in common: they have a culture that respects the individual staff member. In other words, they have something you could call 'belief in the human within'.

    Imagine that. 🙂

    • “The Human Within”… I like that! LOL

  • Yes a good case in point Ray.

    I had a client respond to a post calling into question my business partners experience and that it was in conflict with what he was learning on his Masters course at University.

    My initial reaction was who is this jerk, what does he know etc.

    Anyway we responded to him asking for more clarification about what he disagreed with.

    The upshot was that

    He was disapointed with his lecturers on his Masters course, they conflicted with each other and it did not tally up with his own personal experience which was more in line with my partners advice.

    He had started his masters looking for answers and was feeling DISILLUSIONED with it and he's going to follow what we say closely.

    Initially I thought his motivation was to stir things up, however it turned out he was looking for someone to tell him the truth.

    Your post is a great reminder to me of this thanks.


    • A great example of just one reason why we must be on our guard against judging the motives behind the behavior of others. Thanks Gavin!

  • jwellsy

    Those thought experiments are good exercises to do before writing to help connect with your target audience.

    In social settings you can turn those internal 'why' questions into non threatening conversation starters.