Praise for Discomfort

Sunday, 30 Apr, 2017

Thinking about motivation and how to motivate, I came to a conclusion, like this …

I have come to think that praising someone for what they are already good at, is a waste of an interaction. The person being praised learns nothing, especially if you or others have said it before. The praiser misses a chance to make any sort of difference.

I think it’s better to guide someone in the direction of things they don’t like to do or are not good at, then praise them when they do it. Like when a person who fears confrontation, takes the plunge and confronts difficult people. Or when a decidedly non-athletic person makes a big effort to get out there and do something more athletic. Or when a person develops job skills that they never thought they’d be able to. Praise in those circumstances has lasting meaning.

Conversely, praising a talented athlete for being great athletically, or a student who never has to study to do well, for getting good grades, is just a waste.

Through the lens of living in Japan, people criticize more when you’re uchi rather than soto. When you are uchi, a part of the group (family, company, club), the criticism can be harsh, because “otherwise who else would ever say this.” And usually, we don’t direct too much criticism at someone outside the group, or soto. It feels dysfunctional to me, to harshly criticize someone just because they’re a group member and you can. Words can be weapons.

Hopefully I am not too harsh or sweet, but giving praise where it counts most, and therefore succeeding to motivate people to do better.