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Which Would you Rather?


My daughter’s favorite way to pass the time on long trips is the game ‘Would You Rather.’ If you haven’t had the pleasure of playing, here’s a quick primer.

May 26, 2012 at 09:49AM

One person asks the question, “Would you rather” followed by two equally unsavory choices.

Example: Would you rather… eat peanut butter from between the dog’s toes or never again eat chocolate? Or, would you rather… be bitten all over your body by fire ants or stung all over by bees?

You can appreciate the difficult choices.

It got me thinking about tough choices. For instance, if you had to choose to give up one of the following forever, which would it be: feeling autonomous, feeling connected to others, or feeling capable?

This is the ultimate ‘would you rather’ question because it taps into our most fundamental human needs:

  • Autonomy is the ability to regulate one’s own behavior, make choices, and exercise control over one’s environment.
  • Relatedness is the sense of belonging that comes with satisfying relationships based upon respect and caring.
  • Competence is the experience of succeeding at challenging tasks and developing greater capacity.

According to the work of Edward Deci and others, meeting (or not meeting) these needs has a profound and direct effect on individual health and well-being – as well as the health and well-being of organizations.

Research confirms that when these needs are met, employees:

  • Feel better. They experience less stress and more job satisfaction. Self-esteem and motivation grow.
  • Think better. Learning and cognitive functioning are enhanced. Creativity flourishes.
  • Play better. Trust among individuals and groups improve. They demonstrate greater loyalty and collaboration.
  • Perform better. They are more engaged, conscientious, and focused.

So, what’s a manager’s role in these deep psychological human needs? Plenty.

The most effective and successful leaders take great pains to build autonomy, relatedness, and competence into the fabric of the workplace.


  • Show genuine interest in employees
  • Help people use their strengths
  • Offer choices rather than directives
  • Facilitate relationship building and trust
  • Recognize results in authentic and meaningful ways
  • Encourage initiative
  • Ask for ideas and input
  • Enable collaboration
  • Offer opportunities to stretch and grow
  • View mistakes as a tool for learning

Which of these needs is most important to your people? Which is most important to you? What else can be done to make sure these needs are met in the workplace?

Would you rather: keep your thoughts to yourself or take a minute to share your thinking on this?  I know what I rather you would do!

Image #1 by nowviskie


  1. Fun post, thank you Julie! Of course it’s a relief that in this case – and many others – leaders can do all and don’t need to play “would you rather”. But the art of strategy is for leaders to know how, and to what, to say “no”. – “No, we’re not going to that, we are going to focus on this…. and here’s why.”

    Author: Lead By Greatness

    • Thanks for chiming in, David. And I couldn’t agree more. For me, the ‘why’ is key… and what helps leaders say ‘no’ while still honoring the three needs. I’ve just finished another post on another topic from Deci’s work, internalized motivation, that we’ll put up next month. I’ll be anxious to hear what you think.

      • Throughout the world there are very few cultures that have a word for “no”. Using all of the attributes listed in this writing I would summize that a leader would very rarely need to use “no” if at all. Using “no” terminates progressive thinking for the leader and the employee(s). Very good article.


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