Content Theory of Motivation

To understand the content theory of motivation in relation to public speaking first understand the definition of motivation.

Motivation Meaning

    Motivation, a noun, is the reason(s) for acting or behaving in a particular way. Also, it is a general desire or willingness of someone to do something. (American Heritage Dictionary)

    What if we looked deeper? To better understand motivation, consider the actual process. Our brain thinks and at the same time automatically runs the various body systems. While it is doing these things, another process is working. The force that actuates our mind is at work.

    Have you ever heard of a spirited horse? Have you ever heard of a man with a broken spirit? A person who is damaged goods? The force that actuates our mind is the force that is the seat of motivation. It goes deeper than just a reason for acting or behaving. Motivation is a force that works within our minds. The various content theories attempt to consider what these forces are.

    From the Latin word "movere," which means to move and the late 19th century motive means internal drive, motivation is a force that actuates behavior(s) and provides the gas to move behaviors toward fulfillment of the drive.

    So motivation theory is concerned with why and how the actuating force is activated and how it works to accomplish its goal. Content theories of motivation are one of the types of motivation theory.

    In the field of organizational behavioral studies, there are two different categories called content theories (also known as need theory) and process theories. There is no universally accepted theory of motivation. This will consider the more prominent theory of motivation in the content category.

Content Theory of Motivation

    Content theory of motivation is concerned with the internal factors that actuate human behavior. Four of the most common content theories are...

    Maslow's hierarchy of needs

    Alderfer's ERG theory

    Herzeberg's motivator-hygiene theory (Herzeberg's dual factors theory)

    McClelland's learned needs or three-needs theory are some of the major content theories

Maslows Hierarchy of Human Needs

Abraham Maslows hierarchy of human needs (1943) is perhaps the most well known and most referred to. It proposes five basic levels of needs, each needing to be fulfilled before we will try to fulfill the next need.

At the bottom and first is Physiological needs. These are needs like breathing, food, shelter, water, sleep and homeostasis. In Maslows theory, also included is sex. Not that we need sex rather that it is sexual competition.

Once those needs are met, safety needs are satisfied. These include personal security, financial security, health and well being, safety from accidents and illness.

Love and belonging including friendship, intimacy and family are next.

Esteem is the next, including self esteem and self respect.

On the top of the pyramid is self actualization.

There are a number of criticisms of Maslows theory.

See Maslows Flaw under the second heading.

ERG Theory

The ERG theory looks at the Existence, Relatedness, and Growth needs as a less rigid hierarchy. It addressees some of the limitations with Maslows Theory. There are similarities and differences from Maslow.

Similarities include reducing Maslow to three needs since some overlap. Thus ERG are the three.

The differences include allowing different levels of needs to be pursued simultaneously. Also, it allows for the order to be different for different people. The theory acknowledges that if higher levels remain unfulfilled, there may be a regression to lower level needs in what is known as frustration-regression principle.

Three Needs Motivation Theory

The Three Needs Motivation Theory of David McClelland simplifies the factors of motivation to three basic needs, power, achievement, and affiliation. It uses the Thematic Aptitude Test (TAT) to evaluate people based on three needs.

For Achievement

The motivations for achieving, pursuits and goals are fueled by the perception of getting credit for the job to be done.

For Power

Power can be a motivator, either institutional power or personal power. Those having a high need for power will take actions in a way that influences the behaviors of others. Interestingly, power leaders tend to be unsuccessful organizational leaders.

For Affiliation

Motivation is fueled by satisfaction and acceptance.

Competence Motivation

There has been a fourth need added to the three needs. Competence as the motivation. People needing to master their job to be done is the motivation.

Motivation-Hygiene Theory (The Two Factors Theory)

Focusing on employee motivation, the goal of the theory was to understand what caused satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

Factors that increase job satisfaction include...:



Work itself




Factors that result in job dissatisfaction are...

Company policy


Relationship with Boss

Working conditions

Salary or pay

Relationship with Peers

These are not diametrically different as the opposite of satisfaction is no satisfaction rather than dissatisfaction.

The theory holds that in a work environment, management must provide the hygiene factors to avoid employee dissatisfaction and make available the circumstances intrinsic to the work itself so that employees can be satisfied with their jobs.

Putting the Theories to Work

    By knowing and understanding the theories and using them, it is possible to become a better manager. More importantly, content theory of motivation provide the framework of dynamic public speaking. Rather than speaking to the hearing of your audience, these make it possible to speak to the hearts of your audience.

    Rather than just speaking to the minds of your audience, you will be actuating the minds of those to whom your message resonates.

    It is not possible to reach all. If you reach just one you are a success. Master the theories and how they work and you will be motivating many with your public speaking.

Go To Public Speaking Motivation for more motivation information. The Content Theory of Motivation Resource

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