Last month I wrote about safety and health professionals who are motivated by the need for Achievement.  This month we will cover the need for Affiliation.

Recall, safety and health professionals that are motivated by Affiliation possess a strong desire to be liked and accepted by others, or the need to be with people.   Receiving approval from others is extremely important for those with a need for Affiliation. 

Affiliation motivation

What exactly do I mean by high Affiliation motivated safety and health professionals?

Characteristics of a high Affiliation motivated safety and health professional include:

  • Place a great deal of value in establishing warm, close friendships with people.
  • Enjoy interacting with people through conversation almost to a fault.
  • Have a tendency to seek out approval from others rather than recognition through expressing feelings and ideas.
  • Have a need to want to belong to a group, even to the point of accepting group norms they may not agree with just to be a member of the group.
  • Tend to avoid competitive situations and conflict.
  • More comfortable in situations where there is mutual respect and understanding.
  • High desire to work in groups or teams, especially when there are opportunities to deepen existing friendships or meet and work with new friends.
  • Learn to establish social relationships faster.
  • Tend to be highly skilled with social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn).
  • Make more telephone calls or in today’s vernacular constantly “texting.”
  • Have a high expectation that when they reach out there will be in-kind reciprocation.
  • Have a high need for constantly being connected to their so-called 2,000+ friends through Facebook and Twitter.
  • Tend to be non-assertive, submissive and dependent upon others.
  • Have a limited tolerance for dissent.
  • Have a difficult time working on projects that require criticism in order to improve.
  • Often one of the first to volunteer to be a member of a group or project team.

Managing highly affiliative employees

Safety and health professionals having a high need for Affiliation should be given opportunities to be members of group or team projects where they can interact with others.  This works especially well where the project requires cooperation with fellow employees and where team-building exercises are valued.  Positive feedback is welcomed, although it does not need to be specific because of the desire to be liked and accepted.

Safety and health professionals who desire the need for Affiliation usually make good field professionals.  They are good at establishing relationships with operators and mechanics.  Their approach to integrating safety practices into everyday work tasks is often well received due to their mannerisms and the way they interact with operators. 

McClelland noted that males with high Affiliation believe that goodwill is more important than reason in solving human problems; whereas women with high Affiliation respond more to a partner’s [business or personal] request to “please slow down” in working on a task together.  McClelland goes on to point out that high Affiliation individuals will go to great lengths to avoid conflict; even though studies have shown these same individuals want to change people who disagree with them and even more so if the differences are great.

High Affiliation safety and health professionals exhibit a fear of rejection or fear of negative feedback from others.  These individuals will go to great lengths to please others.

High affiliative safety and health professionals often make good resources for behavior-based safety and other interpersonal safety initiatives that involve interacting with employees.  Conversely, safety and health professionals high in Affiliation will likely not make good accident investigators, especially if there are numerous conflicts among the individuals who were involved in the accident. 

Is your boss highly affiliative?

McClelland characterized highly affiliative bosses as tending to manage their subordinates by establishing personal relationships.  The boss with a high need for Affiliation makes a point of remembering as many employees’ names as possible and stating their name when in their presence.  They almost always make a point to recognize subordinates, especially those he or she likes.

Often affiliative managers have a difficult time making decisions that will appear favorable to one group over another.  Their Affiliation need blurs their objectivity in making decisions.

McClelland points out that managers with a high need for Affiliation tend to avoid conflict so they do not compete well, have difficulty influencing others in management and in making decisions that will hurt others feelings.  Even though high Affiliation individuals become managers, McClelland notes they normally do not turn out to be very good managers — nor do they tend to succeed.  Interestingly, individuals with high Affiliation make good human resource managers, whose job it is to bring management and labor together.

Affiliative managers in high-level leadership positions will often acquiesce to a client’s demands to avoid conflict, believing he or she is winning favor with the client. In time this places the manager and his workforce in a subservient position with the client.  Once in place, the client will take advantage of the situation.

So how do you manage a high Affiliation boss?  First of all, pay close attention to how your boss interacts with his or her subordinates.  If it appears there is a bias toward friendship building versus operational decision-making, your boss might be motivated by his or her need for Affiliation.  If this is the case, mirror your boss’s conversations with you.  In other words, if he or she tells you about a recent family situation, reply with an in-kind example of yours.  For some of you, this will seem awkward or peculiar and too personal, but this is how an affiliative boss gets through the day.

Stay on the friendship side of this type of boss. If you do not, it may result in any idea or initiative you propose being denied or delayed to the point of becoming irrelevant. I know this sounds petty, but falling out of favoritism with an affiliative boss will become a substantial career incident.