How to Motivate the Disengaged Person?

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Dave has always been one of your best employees. Lately, though, he no longer goes the extra mile. Clearly, he is disengaged. What can you do?

We asked for an answer from Don Phin, a management consultant in Coronado, CA (

Phin suggests Dave’s supervisor invite him to a conversation. An opening gambit may go something like this: Can I share with you a couple of things I’ve noticed? [The supervisor states specific observations.] It might just be me, but I get a sense you were more engaged and motivated last year than this.

“The trick here is to speak for oneself,” says Phin. “Notice that there was no suggestion Dave was unmotivated, but only that the supervisor observed certain behaviors.”

A follow-up question can invite Dave to share any hidden issues:

Is there anything going on here that’s causing this change in behavior?

Dave may reveal a personal problem such as a health issue, a divorce, or some home event he normally would not share at work.

Expressing an understanding of how the problem could unsettle things might be all the supervisor needs to say for Dave to adjust his behavior. Perhaps he did not even realize his performance had deteriorated. And management might want to give him some slack until his personal issues are resolved.

Dave, however, may respond in a different way: He may state that something in the workplace is bothering him. If so, it is important to resolve the conflict.

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