Giving Credit Even When It Isn’t Due
Kathleen Kelley Reardon is Professor Emerita of Management at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
She earned her Ph.D. summa cum laude and with distinction at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after receiving her BA degree with honors from University of Connecticut at Storrs. Kathleen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board.
Her primary areas of scholarly interest have been leadership communication, persuasion, politics in the workplace, negotiation and interpersonal communication. Public Opinion Quarterly described her first book, Persuasion in Practice, as a landmark contribution to the field.
Kathleen has taught negotiation, leadership and politics in the MBA, Executive MBA, and International MBA. For 15 years, she served on the USC Preventive Medicine faculty, developing interventions aimed at changing health habits among high-risk populations. She also served as associate director with Warren Bennis of the USC Leadership Institute.
She has authored 10 books and numerous articles, including three for The Harvard Business Review. Her 2001 book The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle (Currency, Doubleday) became an Amazon.com nonfiction and business best seller. It was followed by The Skilled Negotiator (Jossey-Bass, 2004), It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough (Currency, Doubleday, 2005), Childhood Denied: Ending the Nightmare of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sage, 2008), and Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation (Harper Business, 2010).
Her first novel, Shadow Campus, is an inside look at the politics of academia, a mystery-thriller and a love story. Forbes described it as a “masterful debut.” The sequel is underway for publication in 2015.
Kathleen was awarded the 2013 Humanitarian Award by the University of Connecticut Alumni Association based on her contributions to underserved groups, especially in originating and working to develop college prep academies for foster teens (www.firststar.org).
Kathleen is a signature blogger at Huffington Post (since 2005) and also blogs at her website (www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com).
Giving others credit when it isn’t due may sound counterintuitive, but it is what skilled managers and leaders do. The principle applies to people who work for us as much as it does to persons for whom we work.
Just as only misinformed people think they have all the answers, only the desperate attempt to grab all the credit. Confident and competent people know that hoarding credit, or waiting until a job is fully finished before providing some, often results in reduced motivation and/or heightened resentment. Worse, when fear of public ridicule exists, people don’t speak up until problems are too large to fix.
We’re not speaking of praise for its own sake. When people sincerely try to do good work, spotlighting their mistakes can be demoralizing. Rather than say “You’re completely wrong,” or “That’s one of the dumbest comments I’ve heard this month,” astute communicators link some aspect of the other person’s performance to the attainment of the overall goal. Here are a few examples:
“I think I see what you’re saying. I’m not sure it works that way, but your reasoning makes me think we could take another direction.”
“Let’s consider making an alteration in the plan that fits better with what you said earlier about...”
Aside from the obvious benefit of avoiding open conflict, phrases that include even a slight amount of credit have persuasive advantages. Such comments as, “I’d like to hear more about that, Alex,” “You’re the go-to person in this area, Ellen, what do you think?” and “Jason, you’ve handled a delicate situation like this one. Why don’t you give us the benefit of your experience?” reward competence while discouraging defensiveness.
Giving credit during the course of a project — or, say, with one’s children whose grades aren’t yet where they should be — creates a culture of learning rather than anticipated punishment. “You’ve done some very good things here,” said before introducing remedial or next steps, is the kind of positive nudging all of us need at one time or another.
Reciprocity is a communication constant. Defensiveness often elicits defensiveness. Insult can evoke thoughts of revenge. In short, we tend to give back what we get. This is another reason to give credit on progress or good intentions. “I see now where you were going with that,” and “I understand better why you took that route,” are phrases that allow advice or criticism to follow without bruising another person’s ego.
People have reasons for doing what they do, even when it’s a mistake in your eyes. The best managers and leaders determine what those reasons are. Where others chastise, they more often try to find a way forward without bloodletting. As a result, they make fewer enemies and form more enduring, constructive relationships with the people on whom their success depends.
Kathleen also blogs on communication, negotiation, and politics here.
New research links urban planning and political polarization.
- Canadian researchers find that excessive reliance on cars changes political views.
- Decades of car-centric urban planning normalized unsustainable lifestyles.
- People who prefer personal comfort elect politicians who represent such views.
Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.
- Why can't we have a human-sized cat tree?
- What would happen if you got a spoonful of a neutron star?
- Why do we insist on dividing our wonderfully complex selves into boring little boxes
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.