What Is Fear-Based Motivation And Does It Work?

What Is Fear-Based Motivation And Does It Work?


“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

Have you heard of this quote before? Social behavior is contagious. Maybe you want to believe you have your own will and you’re completely independent of the people around you, but the truth is that we are human beings, and we want to belong. It’s called affiliation motivation. It’s the urge to have personal relationships with other people and to feel like you belong to a group or community.

Even though it’s hard to admit when our ego gets in the way, we want to be liked, and we’ll often go along with whatever the group is doing just for that feeling of belonging. It’s often not a conscious thing. We don’t actively think: “I will do what they do because I want them to like me.” No, it’s our subconscious need for affiliation that drives us to automatically copy the behavior of the people around us.

The “Three Needs Theory”

David McClelland expounds on this subconscious need for affiliation in his “Three Needs Theory,” especially in the context of a workplace. Here, he categorizes these needs into three:

  1. The need for achievement
  2. The need for affiliation
  3. The need for power

You might think it’s obvious that we want to achieve our goals in life and track our progress, that we want to feel somewhat powerful like we have things under control, and that we enjoy winning. But it’s the need for affiliation that happens most subconsciously.

  • Did you ever cross your arms during a conversation with your friend, only to realize he’s sitting with his arms crossed as well? Whoops, affiliation motivation.
  • Did you ever just follow the crowd when trying to find the exit of a building but you had no clue where you were going? Whoops, affiliation motivation.
  • Did you ever decide to be kind to someone who belongs to the team while you actually couldn’t stand this person? Whoops, affiliation motivation.

We all feel these three types of needs, but one might be stronger for you than the others.

Do You Have a Strong Need for Affiliation?

You have a high motivation for affiliation if you recognize yourself in the majority of these statements:

  • You love working in groups.
  • You seem to easily blend in.
  • People tend to like you from the start.
  • You prefer collaborating instead of competing.
  • You avoid high-risk situations and uncertainty.
  • You like spending time socializing and networking.
  • You might feel a strong desire to be liked and loved.

Are you feeling like this is a bad thing? Like you want to be more independent and unaffected by others? Let me show you five reasons why affiliation motivation is actually important. We wouldn’t be able to survive as a society without this need for affiliation. Read on to learn why.

5 Reasons Why Affiliation Motivation Is Important

Here are the five reasons why affiliation motivation is important and how it actually benefits you.

1. Affiliation Motivation Is Necessary for Teamwork

When you have a high need for affiliation, you will automatically fit well into any group setting. You’ll be more adaptive, and you won’t try to stand out, be the leader, or be different. People will call you ‘the glue’ of the group because you think of everyone’s good. Being the middle man comes naturally to you as you know how to take everyone’s needs and wants into account and make sure everyone’s getting along well.

We all want to feel involved in some way, to feel part of a community, and to feel like we get our team’s approval. We are social creatures, after all. So, whether your need for affiliation is high or low, you will find it important to feel like you bring value to a group.

If you are higher in the other needs, don’t worry. Every group needs a leader who has a higher need for power to take the group in the right direction. If your need for achievement is the highest, you will be the team player who encourages everyone to create an efficient plan to reach the group’s goals and measure the group’s achievements.

2. You Develop a Higher Social Intelligence

Bonding with others and maintaining good relationships requires a higher level of social intelligence. You create this ability to almost feel what others are thinking and adapt to them. People with a high need for affiliation often have a more advanced level of empathy. You just know how to talk to people and make them happy. And more importantly, apart from easily making new contacts, you know how to sustain them.

If your need for affiliation is high, you’ll feel very good at networking events. You’ll also be the perfect employee for jobs in customer service or any other job with a high level of social interaction. People naturally feel good around you. You know how to maintain a healthy relationship.

If your need for power is higher, people will tend to look up to you, respect you, and see you as their leader. You will naturally act more from a place of authority. If you have a high need for achievement, people will see you more as the competitive person of the group, which can negatively influence the feeling of connectedness.

3. Affiliation Can Affect Your Healthy Habits

Research shows that increasing similarity between spouses in their health behaviors after marriage positively affects their marital satisfaction. The reason both spouses are happier when they copy each other’s healthy habits is that they’re satisfying each other’s affiliation needs.

The same counts for your group of friends, your colleagues, family members, or roommates. If your friend is a heavy drinker, you’re more likely to increase your intake of alcohol as well. Luckily, the opposite is also true. If you’re eating healthy and taking good care of yourself, you’ll see you will positively influence the people who are close to you.

Our need for affiliation can be so big that we are willing to adopt unhealthy behavior just to belong to a group, even when we know it’s not good for us. Our subconscious mind and our instinctual drive to belong are bigger than our conscious thought process.

Whether you have a very strong need for affiliation or not, this advice counts for everyone: Choose wisely who you spend your time with.

4. Bonding With Others Is a Natural Remedy Against Anxiety

During stressful situations, our need for affiliation increases. Think of the biggest world events and how people all of the sudden take initiative to come together, create a new hashtag, gather donations, and support one another.

When stress is high, we tend to put our differences aside and look for that feeling of unity. We come together and find security with one another. Anxiety decreases when you feel connected to others, knowing they are going through the same situation, feeling the same fears, or understand what you’re going through.

When you connect to a group, you somehow forget about the racing thoughts and fears rushing through your head because you’re part of a greater whole. At that moment, you are the group, not just your own being.

5. Affiliation Makes Us Want to Give Back

It’s the connection and trust we feel towards others that makes us feel like we want to give back whenever they do something nice for us. This sense of reciprocity builds more trust, confidence, and fairness in the relationship, and it’s deeply ingrained in our natural reactions.

Without our need for affiliation, we wouldn’t enjoy it so much when others do something nice for us, and vice versa, we wouldn’t feel that instant urge to give back and be liked and loved by others. Giving makes us happy because we know we’ll be accepted, appreciated, and loved by the other person.

Start to Fulfill Your Need for Affiliation!

Now that you understand that affiliation motivation isn’t just about fitting into the group or wanting to be liked by others but about teamwork, social intelligence, physical health, anxiety, and reciprocity, how can you actively fulfill your need for affiliation?

Here are eight quick tips you can start implementing today!

  1. Do something nice for someone.
  2. Choose wisely who you spend your time with.
  3. Dare to share your fears with others. They might feel the same way!
  4. Join a community that has the same interest like a book club, a language exchange, a hiking club, etc.
  5. Play a game that involves teamwork with your best friends like a treasure hunt!
  6. Find a healthy buddy and team up to change your eating habits, or start exercising together, or start a meditation course.
  7. Tell your friends and family why you appreciate them. Try to get comfortable with mentioning your appreciation more often.
  8. Give hugs!

Follow these tips and start to fulfill your need for affiliation!

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com



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