Sticks and Carrots…Do They Ever Work?

In our daily lives, we are either influencing or being influenced. It’s a bonus if you know how to influence people: you may always get what you want. On the other hand, you might want to know when you are being influenced by others too. I don’t necessarily think that we live in an evil world, but sometimes people may be using their influencing skills on us for reasons that are not good. That’s why it pays to spot what they are doing and also how to resist such influences.

I will mainly focus on a specific type of influence in this article: sticks and carrots. It is one of the oldest methods of influencing used by companies, schools, and even by parents. And it is rather very easy to tell when a stick or a carrot is being used, so you do not have to spend a lot of cognitive resources to see whether this trick is being used on you or not:)

When we hear the word stick and carrot, most of us probably imagine a donkey with a carrot dangling in front of it. In a corporate or educational environment, a stick or a carrot is used to make an employee or a student work harder. Under the “stick” conditions, an employee is usually threatened by getting fired unless he/she works harder. And this method works until the employee finds a way to do the minimum possible, or leave the job, or even find ways to get back at the employer somehow. So, usually using the stick is not recommended by anyone. And those who are against the use of the stick usually prefer using a carrot (reward) to encourage an employee or a student to work harder.

I used to work at a job that lured me into accepting the position by mentioning generous bonuses at the interview stage. I had never worked with a bonus structure before, so in the beginning, this really sounded like a great idea. But as I continued working, I also realized that the bonus carrot started leading to some problems. A carrot/bonus system may pull everything out of shape. Because if an employee knows that he/she will get a reward when he/she hits 30 sales, usually the employer will do just 30 to get the reward. He/she will not go out of his/her own way to hit 35 sales. Why should he/she? The employee will just focus on the one thing that brings the carrot. And when employees usually focus just on money, the quality tends to slip away too.

I think both sticks the carrots are outdated methods of influencing people. The sticks cause resentment right away. The carrots may seem to be a better option, but it is very difficult to maintain fairness, and in the end, this results in resentment in most situations too. If we can make an effort to understand people and their resistances, we may find better ways to make them care and believe in what we are trying to get them to do.

What influencing methods do you use? Do you prefer sticks or carrots? Are you able to tell when someone is trying to influence you?