Set People Up As Inspirations To Themselves

May 4, 2008

I was recently thinking about criticism after I read the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” In one of the early chapters, the author posits that criticism is essentially useless. It does not effect change. This got me thinking as to why we criticize.

Criticism is a social dominance issue. By pointing out error I establish myself as superiorly informed and motivated. My rightness is established and someone’s incorrectness is compared to my rightness. So criticism is an issue of status. Through criticism, I lay you lower than myself. This behavior is also useful for creating cohesion in a team, by criticizing opposition, you can bond your own group tightly.

On the other hand, authentic praise points out someone’s superior virtue, but can result in two paths for the praiser. The praiser can use authentic praise to raise a person up, and lower themselves. This form of praise is no different from criticism. The alternative, is to reveal the praiser as skilled in observation and a facilitating the good in others. Thus, both are raised up.

The act of praise sets a person up as an inspiration to themselves. You cast a positive image of them, which gives them something to move to. Criticism casts something to head away from. Generally, the carrot ahead is better than the stick behind.

I also read recently how status is a more powerful motivator than money. I came to the same conclusion when I was trying to figure out how to structure incentive in teams. I kept coming back to the conclusion that if you are going to make gross simplifications about motivation, all incentives could be abstracted to status. Money, sex, possessions, and influence are conduits for status. Accentuate authentic praise and you’ll improve everyone’s sensation of status. Considering that in groups of monkeys status can be a major factor in health, than you’ll probably be on a very nice path.

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