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12 Reasons Why Strength-Based Motivation Works better than Criticism

12 Reasons Why Strength-Based Motivation Works
better than Criticism

“You leave messes everywhere!”
“You are so forgetful – can’t you remember anything?”
“You really hold grudges, don’t you?”

Ouch! Have you ever had someone say something like this to you? Or said it to yourself? Of course you have! It is a very old, but very poor method of motivation based on guilt and fault-finding that we could call “Criticism Motivation.” The theory of the fault-finder is, “If I point out flaws, and instill guilt about the flaws, people will fix their flaws.” Admit it – you have believed this, haven’t you?

And although sometimes a bit of direct criticism may be needed, in virtually all cases, a better method to inspire change is called “Strength-based Motivation.”

Strength-based motivation is a powerful way to relate to yourself and others. Unfortunately, most people have no clue about what it is and how to use it. And they don’t know the benefits of SBM. So, here are the answers to those burning questions.

What is Strength-based Motivation?

Strength-based Motivation, or SBM, builds future success on previous successes. SBM highlights areas where the person has previously shown strength. Instead of pointing out flaws and weaknesses in others, a person using an SBM approach points out successes and suggests letting the success expand.

For example, a “fault-finder” boss might say, “I notice you’re late getting back after lunch. You need to stop being tardy.” Whereas SBM would say, “I notice you are always on time to work. That’s fantastic! How could you do the same thing after lunch? Whatever you are doing in the morning works great. . . What would need to happen so we could repeat that success a few hours later?”

When a Strength-based Motivator sees the need for improvement in herself or others, she first points out areas she has been strong. Especially areas of strength that overlap with the area needed for improvement. Then the motivator invites improvement by encouraging the person to use existing strengths to solve existing problems. Nobody needs to re-invent the wheel. Nobody needs to be overwhelmed by making huge changes. A SBM says, “Hey, you are already doing a great job over there. . . I’ll bet you can do the same thing over here.”

Then, after that discussion occurs, SBM makes sure to point out even the smallest improvements to encourage the “motivatee.” Even if the person is still failing to a great degree, SBM focuses on the good stuff so the person doesn’t get discouraged.

SBM challenges both parties to develop positive reponses to challenges. The “motivator” develops the skill of seeing strengths and inviting others to use these strengths to improve. The “motivatee” develops the skill of self-evaluation and problem solving.

Examples of SBM

Let’s use the three examples from the beginning of the article and transform them into shining examples of Strength-based Motivation.

Example 1:
“You leave messes everywhere!”

SBM Mom: “I notice you keep your car really clean. . . how could you take care of your stuff in the house like you do with your car?”

Jason: “Aww, Mom, you’re always nagging me about stuff!”

Mom: “I’m not kidding, Jason, whatever you are doing in your car works great. It’s really amazing. I don’t know many teens that keep their car that clean. And. . .it would help our family immensely if you would do the same thing inside the house as inside your car.”

Jason thinks a bit.

Mom: “Why don’t you think about it and see how you could make that work, okay? I know I’d be happy to let you use the car tonight if you can get your things organized inside the house too.”

Jason cleans up but still leaves some things out.

Mom: “You’ve really cleaned a lot! It helps our family a ton, buddy. Now, looking at the family room, I notice that this half is really clean. No food or clothes anywhere. It’s primo. So. . . how can we make the other half look as good as this super clean half? Can I help out a bit so you can leave before the game?”

In this example, mom didn’t let herself get sucked into defensiveness about “nagging,” but gently focused on what he is doing right. She stated the reward he would earn if he made some changes and expressed faith and confidence in her son. After he made an effort, she didn’t criticize his faults. She used his strengths to allow him to see what he needs to improve. She even offered her practical support to make his goals a reality. Finally, mom didn’t ask for perfection initially. She knows that his strengths and skills will build with practice and time and doesn’t nitpick him into hopelessness. SBM is patient because the rewards include a strong relationship that improves over time.

Example 2:
“You are so forgetful – can’t you remember anything?”

SBM Husband: “Sometimes you might think you are forgetful, but I notice you always remember the kid’s sports schedules. That’s really remarkable because they are so complicated!”

Wife: “The only reason I remember the kids’ games is because it’s all calendared on my phone! That saves me for sure.”

Husband: “You know, that seems to work great for all that . . . I’m wondering if maybe that might work for other things.”

Wife: “What are you talking about?”

Husband: “Well, you are so organized with the sports, and I’m thinking that the same strategy could be used for car maintenance and grocery shopping. You know, put it in your phone like the games and practices.”

Wife: “Hmmm. I could probably do that.”

Husband: “It would mean a lot to me if those were a little more predictable. You are already successful with the sports stuff.”

Wife: “Well. . .Ok. If it will make your life easier.”

Husband: “I think it would make life easier for everyone, really.”

Later, if his wife improves with some of the forgetfulness, the husband can comment on how the changes make life better. He notices even small improvements or successes and acknowledges these to his wife. He may even need to give her credit for things that are “lucky”. Here’s what that looks like.

Husband: “So did you remember to get the tires rotated?”

Wife: “No! I forgot again!”

Husband: “Well at least you aren’t running around on rims yet! That’s a plus. But I am concerned about the wear. Do you think you could enter that appointment in your phone or would you like me to see if I could do it?”

Example 3:
“You really hold grudges, don’t you?”
SBM Friend #1: “I notice you are really forgiving of your sisters. That’s a really cool trait to have – not holding grudges.”

Friend #2: “It’s harder with some people for sure.”

Friend #1: “I admire how you forgive people really hard things – like your sister Chrissy.”

Friend #2: “When she married my fiancée? I know, right? But he turned out to be a loser, so I just felt sorry for her after all.”

Friend #1: “I’m just wondering how you can let those skills spill over to other people in your life. I would think forgiving your coworkers would be snap after Chrissy.”

Friend #2: “I’m not going to give people a pass when they are such total idiots!”

Friend #1: “I’m just saying it’s cool you are able to live and let live even when some people are idiots. Very cool, that’s all.”

Benefits of SBM over Criticism

Strength-Based Motivation
Focuses on Strengths and Successes
Builds on Success with encouragement
Fosters hope and confidence
Strengthens the relationship
Creates trust and safety
Fosters dignity and respect
Encourages creativity and perseverance
Is positive – seeks strengths to focus on
Creates more enthusiastic compliance
Results take a little longer, but the person is more self-motivated
Opens an informative dialogue
Creates self-appraisal

Fault-Finding Motivation
Focuses on Faults and Weaknesses
Ignores success with criticism
Fosters discouragement and fear
Imperils or even destroys relationship
Creates anxiety and sense of danger
Fosters guilt and resentment
Encourages rigidity and quitting
Is negative – seeks weaknesses to dwell on
Creates non-compliance/passive aggressive
Results occur quickly, but may result in diminished returns over the long-term or future push-back
Shuts down dialogue or creates protests/whining
Creates self-protection and defensiveness

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