"Promotion focus is about maximizing gains and avoiding missed opportunities… Prevention focus, on the other hand, is about minimizing losses, to keep things working."

- Focus, page 3

Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence sets out to examine the two primary motivators in our lives: promotion and prevention. The information and research presented by doctors Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins outline why our motivations exist, how those motivations change throughout our day (depending upon situations and circumstances), and how we are affected by these motivations – in our work, our families, and our communities.

Using stories and examples, as well as occasional evaluations, the authors walk us through the best (and worst) ways to use these natural motivations to empower (or discourage) our choices and actions. And if you’re like me, in a motivation-centric line of work, the culminating chapter, a “Guide to Creating Motivational Fit,” is a must-read.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Change is Possible

"One of the key benefits of shaping a message to fit with your audience’s promotion or prevention focus is the enhanced motivation it creates."
- Focus, page 167

Fit is the key. When a message fits with our dominant focus, it resonates with our internal motivations and guides us toward acceptance and action. Alternatively, non-fit messaging “disrupts motivation,” guiding us away from accepting and acting on the message we just received. This is why fit is so important as is our messaging – it will either attract or repel our audience, and it works equally well in our personal and home lives as in our working lives.

Fortunately for us, Halvorson and Higgins outline a three-step process for determining fit and crafting persuasive messages:

Step 1: Find Their Focus – What does my audience want? What is their motivation with respect to this issue? What is their goal?

Step 2: Craft Content That Fits – What do you want your audience to do? Is that action naturally promotion-focused or prevention-focused or either/both?

Step 3: Deliver Your Message With Language That Fits – Determine a delivery method that creates even more motivational fit, using one of the ten ideal methods:

1. Frame It In Terms of Gain/Loss
2. Emphasize Why or How
3. Use Adjectives and Verbs
4. Highlight Succeeding or Not Failing
5. Emphasize Change or Stability
6. Describe it as Taking a Chance or Being Cautious
7. Emphasize Feelings or Reasons
8. Use Animated or Reserved Gestures
9. Emphasize the Parts or the Whole
10. Let Fit Rub Off

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Identifying Focus

"But how can you identify someone else’s motivation, so you can assign them to the right kinds of work, or so you can tailor your message content and delivery for maximum effectiveness?"
- Focus, page 130

Knowing the best ways to craft messaging isn’t really enough to get the job done. Step #1 above is perhaps the most difficult step in the process. If you don’t understand your audience’s motivation, how can you possibly appeal to their focus?

First, we can start with a few assumptions like age, culture, careers, activities and hobbies, behaviors, choices and feelings, etc., which give us a starting point for understanding others’ motivations. And then, we can match those assumptions to what we know about focus.

Promotion-focused people:

  • Work quickly

  • Consider a lot of alternatives

  • Are open to new opportunities

  • Have a rosy outlook

  • Seek positive feedback and lose steam without it

  • Feel happy or sad

While prevention-focused people:

  • Work slowly and deliberately

  • Are prepared

  • Are stressed by short deadlines

  • Stick to known ways of doing things

  • Are uncomfortable with praise or optimism

  • Feel worried or relieved

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Optimism Doesn't Work for Pessimists

"Our research shows, there are those for whom the best way to ensure success is actually to believe they just might fail."
- Focus, page 21

We live in a world bombarded by messages on the importance of positive thinking, optimism, and happiness. Study after study supports the impact of optimism on health, work, and relationships. Which does work “for some people, some of the time.” But what about individuals with a prevention-focused mindset?

For them, avoiding mistakes and mitigating losses is far more motivating than the promotion-focused mindset of advancement and success. As we craft our messaging to the prevention-focused, we must remember that pessimism and fear will move them to action far more quickly.

Because I spend my working life among educators who are actively transforming public education, I found that the differentiation between motivations resonated. Whether they are focused on high achievement and bright futures for students, or focused on the fear of poor outcomes and the threat of school closures, my challenge is to make sure that my messaging meets their primary motivation and helps them move toward success and away from failure.

I plan to use the chapter on Crafting Your Message in my marketing activities this fall, so this book came to me at the absolutely perfect moment. And it spoke to my promotion-oriented focus – reaping the success that comes with moving people to change.

What about you? Do you identify as promotion- or prevention-focused? Does your focus differ in various areas of your life? Can you identify promotion- or prevention-focus in the people around you? How can you modify your message to fit their motivation and move them to change?

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Jennifer Knighton

ABOUT Jennifer Knighton

WHO ARE YOU? I'm a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I'm a saleswoman, a rain-maker, a dragon-slayer. I like shoes, handbags, a cold gin & tonic on a hot summer day...
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