The Accountability of Silence

My Big Idea

Ask a dozen business experts their opinion on the benefits of accountability, and you’ll likely get mixed reviews. The largest and most vocal group will be the one that firmly believes in the power of having an accountability partner. The thinking goes that the more people you tell of your goal, the more pressure you will have to achieve it, which is a good thing.

However, a growing number of experts are beginning to realize that accountability to people other than yourself isn’t always the best choice. Despite the buzz surrounding the idea of accountability, it doesn’t work for everyone. Research studies have revealed that accountability partners can actually decrease your chances of success. Is it possible to be successful with an accountability group of one - yourself?

A study by the American Psychological Association found that sharing your goals with a stranger can de-motivate you. Does that seem counter-intuitive? It may seem like keeping your goals private is counterproductive, but science says otherwise.

Premature praise may remove the incentive for working on your goal

A study by Peter Gollwitzer revealed that sharing your goal actually decreases the chance that you’ll actually do the work. Why? When you reveal your big goal, people are quick to praise you, giving you a euphoric high that feeds your feelings of self-worth. You get the “hit” of endorphins early, and then are less motivated to keep working on it. As the popularity of social media continues to climb, the ‘hits’ of euphoria come from simply telling people about the goal. Followers give you mini-hits with likes and words of affirmation, but you don’t actually have to do the work to get the praise.

Praise related to you as an individual is less likely to motivate you

A study at Reed College used three types of praise to evaluate the effect of affirmation and accountability on goal-setting. The group that received praise on the method of working was more successful (“The way you solved that problem was impressive.”), while the group that received individual praise (“You’re amazing!”) was less successful. Most accountability partners, use individual praise and unknowingly reduce the effectiveness of their encouragement.

Negative feedback can discourage beginners

While no one likes to get negative feedback, it can discourage people from continuing to work on their goals and abandon their plans. People who struggle with their goals may be inclined to give up altogether when they receive negative feedback about their rate of work, the way they approach the problem or their overall goal.

Comparison is the enemy of success

Have you ever told someone a dream or goal, only to have them rattle off others who have attempted the same thing? It can be discouraging to hear about others who have failed and can lead to disillusionment. In some cases, people give up rather than be another in the line of failures.

Keeping your goals private can be powerful. You are accountable only to yourself, and you won’t be faced with the onslaught of doubt, discouragement and defeat that often comes with other people’s opinions.

The best way to reach success? Use an effective goal setting strategy to craft strategic goals. When you use a proven method to create your plan, you are more likely to succeed - no matter who you share (or don’t share) your goals with.

Need help in learning how to create effective goals? Contact the professionals at My Big Idea™ for information on how we can help you succeed!

Michele Bailey is president and CEO of Blazing Agency and My Big Idea®. These two lines of business work congruently to support her clients’ success.

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