Monday, February 5, 2018

Golem or Pygmalion?

The Pygmalion effect... describes how high expectations... lead to high performance... The Golem effect designates the opposite... Jean-Fran├žois Manzoni, "Inside the Golem Effect."
Most of us know if you constantly criticize children they'll develop an inferiority complex. A classic classroom study known as "The Pygmalion Effect" showed that positive expectations for children influence performance positively, and negative expectations influence performance negatively.

With adults, however, we're more likely to create The Golem Effect, where our effort to protect the quality of performance instead demolishes motivation. The traditional way of addressing problems, setting targets, and working to accomplish them has created a culture of problem-centered improvement where subsequent feedback focuses on failings, on what's not working well.

In contrast, Appreciative Feedback supports a climate of continuous improvement by envisioning people at their very best. First, you develop a mutual agreement describing (1) what behavior we'll observe when the individual is performing at his or her best, and (2) what support we can give to reinforce the new behavior. Feedback is then based on what's going well. 

This agreement is not a conversation about shoulds and oughts. Rather, we encourage and support actions that contribute to the desired change. It's important to notice any behavior that moves in the desired direction, even small, incremental changes. Paying attention to what's going well invites us out of the box of noticing only problems; it also increases the number of positive examples we notice.

Being appreciated for what's going well is truly empowering—it calls out our best because we learn to believe in ourselves.


NOTE: This doesn't mean we give dishonest feedback or totally ignore problematic behavior. However, we give this feedback in service of the agreed-upon "best":
  1. Compliment them on what they're already doing that's useful/good.
  2. Connect their present behavior to desired future behavior.
  3. Invite ideas about new behavior, or suggest something new and encourage them to revise it for a better fit.

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