North Central Business Journal News
NEED FOR ACHIEVEMENT VS. NEED FOR AFFILIATION
(October 2000 issue)
by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.
Some people have a high need for achievement.
People with this characteristic value succeeding. They choose moderately
difficult challenges which will allow them to succeed through their competence
and effort. In order to succeed, they seek out constructive criticism
to improve and learn from mistakes.
Some people have a high need for affiliation.
People with this characteristic value people liking them. They also
do not wish to have anyone experience hurt. These people respond
to negative information, even constructive criticism, as a personal insult
– it hurts. They are unwilling to provide negative information, even
constructive criticism, because they fear hurting other people.
Problems often occur in the workplace when
these people are involved in a supervisor-employee relationship.
If High-Affiliators are in supervision, they have enormous difficulty providing
the corrective information their employees need. Even if their employees
specifically ask for this useful, but potentially negative information,
High-Affiliator supervisors are reluctant to offer it. If they do,
they attempt to soften it to the point where the information is too garbled
to be beneficial. High-Affiliator supervisors need to remember that
the kindest thing they can offer their employees is the honor of believing
they can improve because they are competent. In other words, High-Affiliator
supervisors need to see constructive criticism as a “nice” thing, not something
If High-Achievers are in supervision, they
get confused when they offer matter-of-fact statements that they personally
would wish to receive and get a whimpering, hurtful look from their High-Affiliation
employees. To avoid this “emotional” reaction, many High-Achiever
supervisors back off, muttering about silly emotionalism. A more
useful approach is for High-Achiever supervisors to offer their useful
constructive criticism as a means of the employee increasing their popularity
among co-workers. For example, “If you will do the task this way,
you’ll help your co-worker get their task done easier.”
When supervisors are dealing with employees
who react to constructive criticism differently than they do, it is helpful
to recognize that this difference is both natural and acceptable.
It is not helpful to back off from appropriate supervisory responsibilities
because the employee gets hurts receiving negative information. It
is beneficial to rephrase things so that the employee can hear it in the
manner in which it was intended.
High-Achiever supervisors are not intending
to be hurtful; in fact, their comments are intended to be helpful since
receiving corrective information allows people to improve, which is something
most people wish. But supervisors who value receiving this corrective
information need to appreciate that not everyone hears it the way they
do. When that is the case, these supervisors can provide their employees
with this needed information by affirming the employee. This lets
the employee know they are valued, and enables the employee to benefit
from the expertise of their supervisor without emotionality interfering.
Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational
Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human
resource issues. Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions,
specializes in aiding small businesses. Dr. Neal can be reached at