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Strategies for making better decisions
Tips for giving effective feedback
You may have noticed that if someone pushes you to do something, it often makes you feel less inclined to do it. This is a phenomenon known as psychological reactance: a reflex reaction to being told what to do, or feel that your freedom is under threat. It can occur in personal, professional or social settings when you feel that you need to regain a sense of control over your autonomy.
Controlling someone else’s sense of freedom can trigger anger, and motivate them to regain it.
Psychological reactance is the motivation to regain freedom after it has been lost or threatened. It causes individuals to rebel against the pressure they are put under.
It is often the thought of someone else exerting control, rather than the request itself, that leads to psychological reactance. As individuals, we want to feel that we have the freedom to do as we please. This means that when a circumstance arises which threatens our sense of freedom, reactance emerges as a form of motivational arousal.
The perceived threat to your autonomy makes the work feel unappealing and so you may put it to the bottom of your list, or even argue against doing it at all. This reactance is a direct effort to eradicate the new restrictions imposed upon you.
Reactance can occur whenever our emotional freedom is challenged. Research suggests that it can be triggered by external threats, such as being asked to complete a chore, or by internal threats or dialogue.
It’s essential to treat the people you collaborate with as autonomous agents.
For example, if a new process will be implemented at work, give your team the opportunity to provide their thoughts and suggestions. This way, it will feel less likely freedom is being taken away, and more like power is being given.
Research even suggests that threatened individuals who feel powerful free themselves from the threatening situation and manage to reorient themselves.
It has been shown that having too few constraints breeds complacency, while excessive constraints can be detrimental to creativity and innovation: a moderate level of guidance “frames the task as a greater challenge and, in turn, motivates experimentation and risk-taking.” By finding a healthy middle ground between complete freedom and micromanaging, you can maximise creativity and encourage your team to investigate non-traditional solutions.
In some situations, it may be possible to encourage others to achieve more by restricting their freedom in some way. For instance, a researcher may be driven to attend more conferences when told that they can only enrol on three per year. However, this strategy must be used with caution, as an excessive or unfair infringement on freedom could result in resentment rather than motivation.
By accommodating autonomy, using healthy constraints to encourage imaginative thinking, and applying reasonable restrictions as a stimulus for action, reactance can be directed in a way that improves creativity and productivity in the workplace — as long as leaders ensure that team members do not feel controlled, but instead feel empowered to achieve more.
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