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.

365 Ways To Persuade And Motivate: #3 Small Steps

screenshot of 5k appOne of the best ways to motivate people is to stimulate a desire for mastery. People are naturally curious and this curiosity helps people master their environment. People want to learn, improve, and master skills and knowledge.

One of the things you can do to stimulate this sense of mastery is to break things into small steps. Why is that important? Because it makes it easy for people to see their progress, and seeing progress makes people want to keep going.

If you’ve ever used one of the exercising applications, for example “Couch to 5k” or the “10k runner” you will know what I mean. These are apps that you use on your smartphone. They map out an exercise period. You turn on the app as you start your exercise session and the app tells you what to do along the way. At the beginning a voice says for you to walk for 5 minutes to warm up. After that the voice tells you to start running. Two minutes later the voice prompts you to slow down and walk. During the exercise session your screen shows your progress. (See the picture at the top of this blog post). You can see how much time you have been exercising, how much time you have left in the session, and how much time is left in the particular part of this session (for example, you have 30 seconds left to run before it’s time to walk again).

You also get feedback on where you are in the entire 9 week program, for example, you are on Day 2 in the 3rd week. By breaking the entire 9 weeks, and each particular session into small steps, the app can always be showing progress, and that constant feedback on progress towards the goal is very motivating.

You can apply this principle to anything that you want people to do and/or keep doing. Other examples are having people learn a language, or master the steps to be a barista at a coffee shop. Or keeping your audience’s attention and engagement while you are teaching a seminar.

What do you think? Have you used this technique of breaking things into small pieces and showing progress to keep people motivated?

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