Does Recognition Make You “Over-Confident”?

We have just signed a new lease for our offices and as such, I am moving spaces.  As I started going through my “stuff” I ran across many articles that I previously put aside that I thought needed further comment or rebuttal.  While re-reading some of the articles that I put aside, I decided that now is a good time to blog about them. 

One in particular was an article that appeared in the HBR Blog Network titled “Be Careful How You Praise People." While I certainly believe that one should be careful with praise and positive reinforcement as you certainly run the risk of reinforcing behavior you don’t want, the actions of many who read that blog might be misguided.

The gist of the HBR blog is that “anytime you give positive feedback for a skill or trait, the person being praised is at risk for becoming over-confident in that particular domain. For those who know and understand behavior and more specifically, positive reinforcement, they know that can’t happen. If people who are praised become overconfident then they were positively reinforced for the wrong behavior. If one was positively reinforced for the correct behavior, the science of behavior tells us the person (or persons) will engage in the reinforced behavior more often.

Like so many articles that find fault with incentives and rewards, the authors seem to know little about behavior and reinforcement. More often than not their analyses and recommendations are not scientifically sound and thereby cause more problems than they solve.

Before you act on articles or blogs, look at the “research” on which they base their conclusions.  Often you will see that the conclusions of the author only have thin support from the data or that the findings have not been replicated.

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.