Ouch! That Hurts When You Try to Be Kind

disillusioned young violinistWe’ve all seen it: the doting parents praising their child after a performance that everyone else in the room knows was terrible.

The problem is that in an attempt to be loving and kind, they are actually hurting their child.

The same thing can happen at work when supervisors fail to give honest, and sometimes difficult, feedback to their coworkers.

Some Important New Insights From Research

A new study* published in April 2014 helps explain why people sometimes think they are good at something when actually they are not good at all.

First, let me mention why this study is so important. It is important because of the huge amount of data used for the study. The authors used a meta-synthesis statistical technique with data from many other studies. This allowed them to look at results from over a quarter of a million participants. That is a mega-number for research!

Second, let me mention what it tells us. One of the main reasons why we are self-deceived about our abilities and think that we can do better at something than we really can is because we don’t have good self-insight. Many times, the lack of self-insight is a direct result of people getting vague feedback from family, friends, and employers.

Let’s be clear: self-esteem rarely, if ever, leads to greater performance. Yet in an effort to be kind and build self-esteem, we give vague, often overly generous feedback to our friends and co-workers. “You did a good job,” is too fuzzy to do anyone any good.

What improves performance is accurate and specific feedback and a concerted effort to improve. For more on the difference between the lie, “practice makes perfect” and the truth “perfect practice makes perfect” click here.

Think back to your best teachers in school. You know, the ones that pushed you to excel. They often were not the kindest or even the gentlest, but they were the ones who were honest and pushed you to constant improvement. They told you exactly what you were doing wrong and how to fix it.

One of the researchers (Krizan) said, “If people are evaluating themselves in terms of very specific criteria, they’re going to have better self-insight because they are constrained by how to interpret the ability.”

What Should We Do?

On the receiving feedback side: push those around you to greater honesty and specifics when they are giving you feedback.

Drill down deeper if they say you did “well.” What was good about it? How could if be better?

On the giving feedback side: Be brutally honest (with kindness!) and very specific when you give feedback. Tell your friends, family, and coworkers exactly what was good and what was bad.

They will thank you for it in the end.

==========
*E. Zell, Z. Krizan. Do People Have Insight Into Their Abilities? A Metasynthesis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2014; 9 (2): 111 DOI: 10.1177/1745691613518075

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *