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Thread: The asymmetry between how we perceive praise and criticism

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    The asymmetry between how we perceive praise and criticism

    A recent issue has led me to reflect on the asymmetry between how we perceive praise and criticism and the implications that it has for encouraging volunteers.

    I have witnessed a number of specific occasions where this asymmetry has manifested itself, but the general pattern is ...

    A volunteer (leader or supporter) runs a very successful event. Lots of happy people on the day, lots of thank yous made in person. Then after the event a lessons learnt exercise is undertaken, either formally or informally. Sometimes this is by collecting feedback forms from participants, sometimes by informal feedback etc. A meeting is held to discuss the feedback. A few small negative issues are raised about the event - often in the spirit of "things that we might do better next time" or "elements that do not go so well". The volunteer that runs the event then focuses solely on the small criticisms and forgets the huge amount of praise that they received.

    The situation can be very badly exacerbated if the negative elements are recorded in formal minutes of a meeting (especially if the positive praise is not included in those minutes).

    I have witnessed a Leader very nearly give up their role after what everyone felt was a really successful camp because they received one complaint from a disgruntled parent.

    I think that this is just human nature. A single negative comment can have the effect of negating a massive amount of positive feedback.

    Praise needs to be heaped on with a shovel whereas criticism needs to be applied in tiny drops.

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    The unpaid help ASLChris's Avatar
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    IIRC there is scientific evidence that we need five positive comments to equal one negative comment...
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    Is it not a microcosm, or facet of our new inability to not take offence?

    I have a theory on this...* The way our culture works today, its so easy to get what we want pretty much exactly when we want it. However, if we get something we don't want (ie. criticism)... It's so jarring, we've become hyper-sensitive to it.







    * Most of my theories are rubbish mind...

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    I've had this debate with my housemate who is also a Leader and likes getting complimented directly on stuff as a means of confirming he's doing it right. I'm less of a fan - I'm happy with the idea of a quick "thanks" and little else, with overdoing it being Americanised back-slapping or somesuch.

    Perhaps there needs to be some thought going into what individuals like in that regard?

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    The problem I think is that 'feedback' is almost designed to produce negative comments and sometimes its best not to ask for it.

    Adults in Scouting also have a bit of a tendency to look for faults and focus on them.

    I can recall working with a team of leaders on a summer camp idea we'd dreamt up the previous summer. And once we'd come up with the idea for the summer camp, it basically wrote our year's weekly programmes for us as well as the programmes for all the weekend camp's leading up to it.

    The camp itself was a MASSIVE success, with some kids walking away at the end of the camp with TWELVE badges that they'd worked towards in preparation for the camp and had finished off there. It was the best thing we ever did and I've never been able to top it.

    But at the end of the camp, we came away with a very down feeling - for the life of me, I cannot fathom why!

    I then read a book, The One Minute Manager and have applied it's technique of 'Catching Them Doing Something Right' ever since with volunteers and it has worked brilliantly. I current am a paid manager to a team of volunteers, some of whom remarked the other day that they loved working with me as I seemed to understand volunteers better than most.

    That'll be the 40 years spent volunteering - during which time I have sometimes been horrendously abused - then!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Old_Tom_Foley View Post
    But at the end of the camp, we came away with a very down feeling - for the life of me, I cannot fathom why!
    More than just the normal "it was a really good camp and now it's over" post-camp blues then?

    There is a definite sadness I find when it goes really really well, and you know, it's summer camp, it'll never be repeated in the same way, the kids involved would be different, as would the leaders, all that work and it's over and done, and you'd just like it to carry on.

    Quote Originally Posted by Old_Tom_Foley View Post
    I then read a book, The One Minute Manager and have applied it's technique of 'Catching Them Doing Something Right' ever since with volunteers and it has worked brilliantly. I current am a paid manager to a team of volunteers, some of whom remarked the other day that they loved working with me as I seemed to understand volunteers better than most.
    Can you expand on that technique? sounds useful.

    Ian
    Ian Wilkins
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neil Williams View Post
    I've had this debate with my housemate who is also a Leader and likes getting complimented directly on stuff as a means of confirming he's doing it right. I'm less of a fan - I'm happy with the idea of a quick "thanks" and little else, with overdoing it being Americanised back-slapping or somesuch.

    Perhaps there needs to be some thought going into what individuals like in that regard?
    Agree with this.

    My Victorian values mean , that compliments (especially when overdone) are a source of acute embarrassment. I also cover my wrists and ankles (and the rest of me obviously) when visiting the lido...

    I prefer to sit back and watch folk enjoy what ever it is. I gauge the success (or not) on the reactions of the people there. If the majority seem to like it and perhaps one or two didn't? Ah well, you can't please all the people all of the time etc etc etc.

    From the other side? If a fellow adult leader does something well, I give them a nod and/or a smile because is pretty much all I'd expect from them. If its the kids, then yes, I'll be a lot more vocal.

    If something was totally rubbish and didn't work? Again, you can be subtle about it and gauge your response based on the people involved - or make a wee joke and move on.

    Its complicated, so it really just depends on the people.

    Is what I think.

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    You can please all of the people some of the time, or some of the people all of the time. The man that tries to do both is a fool unto himself. If a minority don't like what you are doing then frankly that's there problem. There's nothing wrong with plan, do review with all your activities, but if you start to pander to the minority you will forget the satisfied majority.

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    I had a wise HR manager once, I was chatting to him after I'd had a complaint about an event we on the sports and social committee had organised, he said, to summarise: it's usually the same people that complain, they are never happy, and never satisfied, and they never ever lift a finger to help, stuff 'em.
    Ian Wilkins
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    Jambowlree - Worldwide Scout Ten Pin Bowling Competition
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    http://www.jambowlree.org

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    Quote Originally Posted by ianw View Post
    I had a wise HR manager once, I was chatting to him after I'd had a complaint about an event we on the sports and social committee had organised, he said, to summarise: it's usually the same people that complain, they are never happy, and never satisfied, and they never ever lift a finger to help, stuff 'em.
    The other aspect is, some folk really don't know what the baseline is. They have no idea what happens normally, so when they find out (what happens normally) and it doesn't fit with the preconceptions - they complain.

    I think some complaints are born out of misunderstanding and not genuine ire.

    Of course there are those who don't know what goes on, have no interest in finding out, and think their version is how it should be regardless - what can you do?

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    I suppose that putting on a program for a group of other people, whether youth or adults or scouting or a play, you put yourself out there. For the person that's new at it it's even harder. But after you've done it long enough you get thick skin and a few complaints among a lot of thanks gets the response of help out or shut up.

    I think this is half the battle when dealing with youth that are learning to lead.

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