Psychological Theories to be Competitive in Business

Last week I wrote about the psychological concept of Social Interest. Specifically, how to increase our mindfulness in a business setting.

This week I want to discuss the concepts of Goal-Oriented Behavior and the 3 Universal Goals. We will see how these psychological concepts have been used to manipulate sales. We will also see how a business owner can improve their practices by increasing awareness of how these psychological concepts impact staff.

First and foremost, let’s define our terms.

Goal-Oriented Behavior is a psychological concept which states that every action we take, consciously or subconsciously, is a calculated attempt to obtain or maintain a specific goal which we have set for ourselves. Every action from when we speak, how we speak, what we wear, what we read, IF we read, has a specific psychological purpose behind it.

An example I like to use is the “actually” person.

behaviors are learned and sculpted by the combination of external and internal stimuli.

We all know someone who tries to be a know-it-all. It seems that every conversation you have with them brings a retort, “actually…” as they try to correct something you or someone else said. It’s like they can’t control themselves; that the mere presence of inaccurate information causes them to word-vomit and exorcise the fallacies from the room. This “actually” friend may not even realize why they have to correct you, but still, they do so.

Like a doctor tapping your knee, causing the patient’s foot to kick out. Except, the knee-jerk reaction is not just a physical response; it is behavioral. And behaviors are learned and sculpted by the combination of external and internal stimuli. But how do we set these “goals” for ourselves? Where do they even come from?

Enter Alfred Adler.

Adler believed that each human being is dynamically unique; our personalities as identifiable and unique as our fingerprints. We have vibrant passions, values, and beliefs that have sculpted us into the individuals we are and will become. But as unique as we all are from each other, every one of us is attempting to achieve the same three fundamental goals. These are the psychological goals of Significance, Security, and Belonging.

But as unique as we all are from each other, every one of us is attempting to achieve the same three fundamental goals. These are the goals of Significance, Security, and Belonging.

Titled the Three Universal Goals, Adler explains that every human being, no matter how, is constantly striving to achieve these three goals. Let’s look at each goal individually.


In our world, whether it be our social circle or professional network, we desire to feel significant to those around us. We want to maintain a sense that, if we were to vanish, the lack of our presence would have an impact on those who knew us. Think back to our example of the “actually” person.

By correcting other people’s statements, are they not attempting to establish a sense of significance in those conversations? The desire for fame is another fantastic example of seeking significance. The hope of getting our 15-minutes of fame and the lengths to which people are willing to go shows how important the concept of significance is to us.


The goal of security focuses on our level of safety in our environment. Think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for this goal. We strive for an environment of safety so that we are not in a constant state of survival.

By obtaining a sense of security, we are able to let our guard down and focus on living and growing, rather than fighting to survive. For this goal, we focus our energies on finding social circles and professional environments that provide a sense of safety.

Think about it this way: would you rather work at a company that consistently threatens your job in order to balance the books or one that has a no-firing policy?


Finally, we have the goal of belonging. This goal is focused on social interactions and how we fit into the world around us. Where significance is a striving to feel influential and security is the desire to feel protected from the world’s dangers, belonging focuses on how we fit into our environments.

This concept is as simple as our desire to find like-minded individuals and surround ourselves with those people. Similarly, if we are attempting to achieve a sense of professional belonging, we may seek out purpose-driven companies.

If we were to have the same beliefs as the company we work for, then wouldn’t we feel a belonging to that company? We are attempting to achieve a sense of belonging when we identify with cultures and sub-cultures. It is within a larger purpose that we find this sense of belonging.

So what does this have to do with business?

If you take a walk through your nearby department store, you will find countless companies marketing directly to these goals, hoping to trigger us to purchase their product. Most companies don’t realize that they are doing it, but their message is all the same. “With our product, you will finally be successful/significant/one of us.”

By using these marketing tactics, businesses are attempting to trigger their target audience into buying their product.

Effective business and marketing strategies focus on connecting the product to the fulfillment of one of these goals. Car commercials focusing on “standing out” from the crowd try to appeal to our desire for significance, insurance companies focusing on taking care of the customer – such as Allstate’s Slogan: “Your In Good Hands” – appeals to our desire for security, and a company making the customer feel that they are part of a movement or culture by buying their product (Apple, I’m looking at you) appeals to our desire for belonging. These practices are effective because they target something deeper than our habits, they target our motivations.

The cornerstone is in making the connection between the existence of a product. How it helps the consumer achieve their goals. 


Final Thoughts

As a business owner, you will want to see what need your product meets, and why that is important to the consumer. Companies often make the mistake of just finding an opportunity in the market and attempting to fill it with a product. The product is only a small part of the sales experience.

It’s about making the connection between the existence of a product and how it helps the consumer achieve their goals. Having a company articulate their purpose using the language of goal-oriented behavior will provide consumer loyalty.

This is also vital behavior for within a company. Every employee is a human being striving for significance, security, and belonging. An executive would do a disservice to their employees and their company if decisions were made without the psychological decision-making of a goal-oriented awareness. 

This means a company should focus their team development around providing a sense of significance to their staff. Focusing on an assurance that the staff is secure in their workplace and that they are working for something greater than themselves. Focus on the motivation behind the action. Connect with staff on a visceral level.

Understanding psychological behavior is a vital tool for a business owner. It not only provides marketing insight into people’s motivations, but it also helps us better understand how to support our staff.


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