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(Influential Leadership) The Threshold of Activation

My last post discussed the concept of “productive tension.” Tension can be defined as the urgency one feels to do something.

To be effective with others you need to develop a keen awareness of where someone’s “threshold” is – specifically, their Threshold of Activation.

What is the Threshold of Activation?

The Threshold of Activation can be defined as the level of tension where someone takes immediate, definitive action.

Some people don’t need a lot of motivation to lose weight. They gain a few extra ponds and immediately make a decision to not eat fries this week. Their tension is always right around their threshold when it comes to weight loss.

Others need to have a heart attack before they start a weight loss program. Their tension before the heart attack was far below their threshold. However, the heart attack raised their tension dramatically (sometimes we call this a “wake up call”) and they immediately change their life style.

Someone’s threshold will also vary by the type of activity. For example, the level of tension you need to experience before you go out and buy a gallon of milk is probably much lower than it would need to be for you to purchase a new home.

What does this mean for me?

Being aware of the threshold is important so that we know what is needed to influence someone. One thing is clear: if they are not taking action, it is because their tension has not reached threshold.

What can you do to manage someone’s tension to the Threshold of Activation?  In general, there are two forces that gets someone to threshold:

1) helping them get more in touch with the PAIN of not taking action now, and

2) helping them better realize the PLEASURE of taking action now.

We all avoid pain. We like to stay in our comfort zones. However, growth and change only take place when we move outside our comfort zones. It usually takes a lot of pain or inspiration (or both) for this to happen.

For example, some of the largest revenue-generating engagements for consultants are compliance-driven. The pain of bad PR or the consequences of violating regulations outweighs the pain of paying lots of money to consultants for their expertise.

On the other hand, pleasure can be compelling as well. A CEO may be inspired to transform an entire organization based on the pleasure of realizing his or her vision of how great the organization could be.

In general, pain is usually a stronger motivator for change than pleasure.

Many professionals don’t fully explore the problems (or pain) a “prospect” has that would cause them to want to buy in to their idea. They spend a lot of time conveying the benefits of a solution, but neglect exploring the pain of the status quo. They leave out what could be the greatest aspect of motivation and influence.

Remember: Change in an organization happens when the pain of change exceeds the pain of the status quo.

If you’re not making headway with the person you are trying to influence, they have not reached threshold.  Here are some things to explore:

1) Ask them questions that help them better connect with the problems of not pursuing the direction you want them to.  This will create more urgency.

2) Think of ways to help them see the personal payoff  of taking action.  Help them get inspired.

3) Make sure there is not something that they have more tension about.  This goes back to the last post – Pay Attention To Tension.  If the person you are talking to is incredibly concerned about another problem, they will be too distracted to focus on the area you are trying to help them with. You may have to bring solutions to help lower tension about Problem A before you can help them with Problem B.

(Contributed by David C Miller.)

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