The Motivation Myth

By: Jonathan Manske & Mattison Grey



What do we do if we have people in our life who under-perform? Friends who don’t live up to their potential? Staff that fail to use their gifts and talents? Normally we turn to motivation. Giving them the praise, appreciation and compliments we hope will inspire greater performance.

Manske and Grey tell us we’re wasting our time. They set out to expose the Motivation Myth: Praise, appreciation, and compliments do not actually do what we think they do. Instead, they produce a far different result, a result that is actually undesirable.

Manske and Grey suggest we turn to acknowledgement. But that’s what we are doing!

We acknowledge people all the time. Not so. It is very likely that we’re giving compliments, appreciation, or praise and calling it acknowledgement.

Lesson 1: Acknowledgement - What It Is and What It Is Not

Acknowledgement is objective and compliments are subjective. Acknowledgement is saying what we have to without our opinion or judgement. If there is opinion or judgement in any of our words it is not acknowledgement.

We often use a number of forms of endorsement: Compliment, Appreciation, Validation, Affirmation, Thanking, Recognition, Praise, Championing, Cheer-leading. I bet you never though you used that many! Here are the different styles all relating to the same outcome.

  • Compliment: "The project is wonderful. You are so smart." Appreciation: "I really appreciate your completing this project on time."
  • Validation: "I see that you have given this project a lot of effort and thought." Affirmation: "I think you deserve all the credit for this successful project."
  • Thanking: "Thank you for putting all your time and effort into this project."
  • Recognition: "It is clear you are a very talented project manager."
  • Praise: "Awesome job."
  • Championing: "I told the CEO that you were the right person for this project."
  • Cheerleading: "I knew you could do it."
  • The key to note is all of the above have opinion or judgement. Ours. Acknowledgement is factual and puts all the attention and focus on the other person.
  • That’s worthy of note. Acknowledgement is not about us.
  • Acknowledgement: "You completed the project on time."

Manske and Grey suggest when people get acknowledged, they get to see what they really did instead of hearing someone else's opinion about what they did. A person who has been acknowledged feels appreciated, validated, and recognised.

They can recognise their achievement without any baggage. They get to praise themselves. They get to be their own champion and cheerleader. Together this builds self-confidence, self-worth, self-esteem, and belief in their own ability. They can clearly recognise what should be done the next time in order to produce the desired result.

Pure acknowledgement is simply stating what happened or what result was produced.

Acknowledgement happens over time.

An acknowledgement has to be about something that is done. It needs to be complete.

Acknowledgement shows we’re paying attention.

An acknowledgement needs to be specific to be effective. What did someone do? What exactly happened? What result was produced?

An acknowledgement must be about something people did or a result they produced. It is about the facts.

The best acknowledgements are short, simple, specific, and about only one thing.

Lesson 2: How To Acknowledge

First challenge. What do we acknowledge? OK, we understand that we need to state what happened or what results were achieved. But how do we make this as effective as we can?

Here is an interesting fact Manske and Grey point out. People will tell us what they want to be acknowledged for. The easiest way to acknowledge people is to actually listen to them and then repeat back what they said with a tone of genuine appreciation, wonder, curiosity, or surprise.

The hardest part about acknowledgement is taking ourselves out of it. As soon as the word "I" shows up, then it is no longer about them; it is about us. We need to be completely out of the equation.

The same goes for modifiers and descriptors in what we say. Manske and Grey give an example.

'You spoke your mind' probably makes us feel good. "You spoke your mind clearly "probably makes us feel a little deflated. It ends on a down note. Did we not speak our mind clearly last time? As soon as modifiers and descriptors enter into our acknowledgement, we are no longer acknowledging - we are judging.

Let’s consider the tone of our acknowledgement. Manske and Grey suggest the tone should have a little energy with it. We want to give the person some energy with our acknowledgement. If our tone is neutral or disinterested, the recipient will either not feel acknowledged or the acknowledgement will have far less impact.

Finally, acknowledgement does not require any response. The person does not need to say "Thank you." If we are waiting for a response to our acknowledgement, then our attention is inward, on us.

Lesson 3: Acknowledgement As Feedback

When we are acknowledged, we get to hear what we did that worked or what we did that did not work. Based on that feedback, we can do more of the same, or we can do something different.

Manske and Grey tell us there is tremendous value in acknowledging what did not work. And the rules are the same as acknowledging something that did.

Remember, acknowledgement is just a statement of the facts. There is nothing to argue with. Without the pressure of having to defend actions, it becomes much easier to influence or modify future performance.

Along the same line of reasoning, acknowledgement of what did not work without judging creates a safer environment where others don't have to fear 'getting in trouble' when mistakes are made. They can count on the facts being dealt with, rather than a reaction to a judgment.

Acknowledgement expresses our belief in the recipient and in their ability to correct and do what works in place of what does not work.

Lesson 4: Self-Acknowledgement

Manske and Grey tell us to acknowledge our own achievements. Manske and Grey suggest self-acknowledgement causes feelings of well-being, self-confidence, optimism, happiness, and self-worth to grow and it gives us a boost of energy and enthusiasm.

The "how to" for self-acknowledgement is the same as acknowledging others. State what you did or the result you produced, without opinion or judgment. The only difference is substituting "I" for "You."

Acknowledgement keeps us focused on the facts rather than on our judgment-laden story about what happened. It is about a role - what we did, not who we are.

Lesson 5: Acknowledgement In Leadership

Manske and Grey highlight a key point: Management was invented to manage things, processes, and paper. Management was never intended to be applied to people. People are not things.

Alternatively their solution – acknowledgement - allows employees to take a clear look at their accomplishments, to recognise the people who supported them, and to receive support.

Acknowledgement creates openness - openness within people and in the environments in which they work, rest, and play. When people get acknowledged, it becomes clear to them that they are productive and they can see how they are making a recognised contribution.

The simplest and best way for us to improve our leadership is to find a way to create more openness in our people and our team. To do that, we need to put our ego and our management training aside and acknowledge people. Acknowledgement allows people to learn: to really learn from both their successes and their mistakes.

Within the sphere of acknowledgement, eliminating people's fear of punishment automatically increases communication, productivity, receptivity, and connection and raises levels of creativity and performance.

The mistake most leaders make is spending a lot of time and energy trying to push people through their resistance instead of creating openness. Pushing people only creates more resistance. When a leader understands what is really important to employees and what achievements and results are meaningful to them, the leader can then begin to help the employees do more of those things.

Lesson 6: Acknowledgement In Sales

Manske and Grey suggest acknowledgement is a powerful tool to use in the context of selling. Acknowledgement, gives us an option to create an authentic, respectful connection with our potential new client.

Acknowledgement warms our potential client up. In essence, it gets us on the same side of the table as the client. When we acknowledge them, they feel good about themselves. Because they feel better about themselves when we are around, they automatically like us more, which makes it more likely they will do business with us. A "Wow" experience. We stand out because most others are not paying authentic attention to the people they are selling to.

Having said that, in order to make this work, we have to pay attention to what the prospect says. If we are busy trying to figure out what to say or do next, or what part of our script to recite, we will not hear the opportunities for acknowledgement.

Acknowledgment works just as well in customer service as it does in sales. Literally just one acknowledgment can make a customer feel heard, appreciated, and much more than just another number.

Acknowledgment is extremely helpful when people need assistance or are upset. Just a little bit of genuine acknowledgement can change the whole situation. The key is to really listen to the customer and find just a couple of simple things to acknowledge him or her for. Adding acknowledgement to our customer service strategy will cost virtually nothing and it will immediately improve our customer's experience.