WIWDD #6: Fake Self Esteem

Posted by jlubans on November 07, 2020

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This is the latest in my series on What I Would Do Differently, what I would change if I could.
Have you ever been given an award for “Participation”? These are all the rage in junior sports leagues. Win or lose, you get an award. Whether a starter or water boy or girl, everyone gets a first-place blue ribbon or a gold star.
The “experts” assure us this is the sine qua non for developing a child’s self-esteem.
Not really.
Let me relate how it went for me.
For several years I wrote a column for my professional association’s magazine. I enjoyed doing it and writing on fresh topics benefited my work and my teaching.
Reader comments were consistently positive. The occasional reader survey pointed out that my column was the first thing looked at in the magazine.
I thrived on the feedback and polished each essay.
So, when the editor nominated me for an award, I was flattered and said, Sure!
Well, as the annual convention approached, I learned that the magazine’s three other columnists were to be recognized as well.
Of course, I immediately saw what this was; someone thought my being singled out for an award would somehow diminish the other columnists. Therefore, to avoid the anticipated ruffled feathers, ALL of us would get an award.
I went along.
But, what had a been positive recognition of my writing’s consistency and quality had now become a participation award. Everybody is a Winner!
My writing was no longer deemed outstanding.
What would I do differently?
I’d ask the editor Why? Why the change from recognizing my achievements to celebrating all the columnists? Based on the readership surveys, we were not all producing the same quality work.
If he told me something along the lines of, Well, we (I’d like to know who the We were) thought this would be a great time to recognize everyone for their participation.
Or, that the organization did not want to pick favorites. You know, if Sleepy gets new pajamas at Christmas, so do Dopey, Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy, Bashful and Doc.
In either case, I’d now skip the ceremony at the annual members meeting.
I see this keeping-the-peace-at-all-costs behavior in my perennial bête noire, Performance Appraisal or PA.
PA suffers annually from several errors and a couple of those blunders apply in this instance. There’s the Leniency Error. In other words, grade inflation, a boss’ tendency to give very generous ratings. It’s the bell curve with one horn.
By giving high scores, the boss skips the hard mental work of individual assessment, and avoids confrontation and the difficult task of explaining to someone why and how he or she needs to improve.
And, there’s the Self-serving Bias Error. Inflated ratings make the rater look good. His or her employees are all above average, obviously due to careful and wise leadership.
Anyway, this distribution of pseudo esteem rankles still. In short, if you want to give positive reinforcement go ahead; just don’t do it at my expense.
If I truly have done a good job, I want to be recognized for the accomplishment. I do not want my deserved accomplishment to be grouped with undeserving work. And, it’s not just my hurt feelings; this type of pseudo award diminishes the organization.
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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2020

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