365 Ways To Persuade And Motivate: #9 Give Feedback Without Praise

Picture of two sillouetted people talkingDuring this series on 365 Ways To Persuade and Motivate I’ve had a few posts about rewards and also some about the desire for mastery. One way to reward people is to give them praise (“Wow, you did a great job on that report”). And because we want to motivate people, and we think praise is a reward, we may tend to use it a lot. But if you are trying to stimulate someone’s internal desire for mastery, then using praise is actually counter-productive.

Rewards are a type of extrinsic motivation. The motivation is coming from outside the person. It’s external, hence “extrinsic”. Praise is extrinsic. But if you have decided to use the desire of mastery to motivate people, instead of using rewards, you are using intrinsic motivation. The motivation is coming from inside the person. And the interesting thing is that extrinsic praise tends to dampen intrinsic motivation coming from the desire for mastery.

In a previous post I talked about how important feedback is if you are trying to stimulate the desire for mastery. You need to give lots of feedback to people on how they are doing in order to keep that intrinsic motivation going. BUT it’s important to note that research by Mark Lepper shows that if you give a reward when people do something it dampens their desire to do it for intrinsic reasons.

Valerie Shute analyzed hundreds of research studies on the use of feedback, and she reports that the best feedback separates objective feedback from praise. This makes sense in thinking about Mark Lepper’s research too. People don’t need your praise to keep going,and switching to praise takes the focus off of intrinsic motivation and puts it on extrinsic motivation. This may actually decrease the desire for mastery.

Combining feedback on what the person did incorrectly and what needs to change with praise can be confusing to the person receiving the feedback. Here’s an example. Let’s say Jerome is teaching Kathleen how to be a barista in a coffee shop. He has her try making a cup of coffee. Then he gives her feedback: “You didn’t clean out the filter thoroughly enough. All the residue needs to be flushed out. Let’s give that another try.”

His feedback was objective and did not include praise. What if Jerome had said, “You didn’t clean out the filter thoroughly enough. All the residue needs to be flushed out. Great job, though, for your first time. You’re really getting the hang of it! Let’s give that another try.”

The second way combines feedback and praise. It might make Jerome feel better, but it probably confuses Kathleen. Did she do the cleaning correctly or not?

You are going to have to decide whether to use the desire for mastery to motivate a particular person in a particular situation, or a reward. The desire for mastery is more powerful, so if possible try that first. And don’t mix in rewards with desire for mastery techniques. If you are going for the desire for mastery then keep your feedback objective and free of praise.

What do you think? Have you tried different kinds of feedback?

Here are the Shute and Lepper references:

Shute, Valerie. 2007. Focus on Formative Feedback. http://www.ets.org/Media/ Research/pdf/RR-07-11.pdf.

Lepper, Mark, David Greene, and Richard Nisbett. 1973. “Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: A test of the ‘overjustification’ hypothesis.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 28(1): 129–37.

To learn more check out our 1 day seminar on The Science of Persuasion.

100 Things You Should Know About People: #81 — Intrinsic Rewards Trump Extrinsic Rewards

Picture of a Good Drawing CertificateLet’s say you are an art teacher, and you want to encourage your students to spend more time practicing their drawing. You create a “Good Drawing Certificate” to give to your students. If your goal is to have them draw more, and for them to stick with it, how should you give them the certificate? Should you give them one every time they draw? Or only sometimes? Lepper, Greene and Nisbett conducted research on this question way back in 1973. They divided children into 3 groups:

Group 1, the Expected Group — The researchers showed the children the “Good Drawing Certificate” and asked if they wanted to draw in order to get the certificate.

Group 2, the Unexpected group — The researchers asked the children if they wanted to draw, but didn’t mention anything about a certificate. After the children spent time drawing, they received an (unexpected) drawing certificate.

Group 3, the Control Group — The researchers asked the children if they wanted to draw, but didn’t mention a certificate and didn’t give them one.

What happened 2 weeks later? — The real part of the experiment came 2 weeks later. During playtime the drawing tools were put out in the room. The children weren’t asked anything about drawing, the tools were just put in the room and available. So what happened?  Children in Groups 2 and 3, the Unexpected and the Control Groups spent the most time drawing. The children in Group 1, the ones who had received an expected reward, spent the least time drawing. “Contingent” rewards (rewards given based on specific behavior that is spelled out ahead of time) resulted in less of the desired behavior. Later the researchers went on to do more studies like this, and with adults as well as children, finding similar results.

What do you think? Do you use intrinsic or extrinsic rewards at your workplace? At your website?

And if you like to read the research:

Lepper, M., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic rewards. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 129-137.