Can You Inspire Your Team Through Cynicism?

Last Updated Apr 13, 2009 12:06 AM EDT

I read a thought-provoking post from Scott Berkun the other day. He was wondering, why does cynicism sell?

His example, and it was a good one, was to create two fictional essay titles. Which one would you rather read?

A) What makes managers great

B) Why managers make us miserable

Even though I'm an optimist by nature, I'm drawn to B. You, too? Scott posits why:

"Somehow the confession, by Writer B, that there is something wrong and they're going to talk about it strikes me as more honest than Writer A. Writer A sounds like an idiot. A Pollyanna. He sounds like someone who thinks everything is great and wonderful and probably has no insight as to why. Whereas Writer B, although he might describe some horror stories, there is a chance he will turn the misery around and explain how you can avoid the misery, and become a good or great manager."
In journalism, we talk about creating headlines with good "hooks" -- that is, something that catches a reader's eye and draws him in. And negative hooks tend to pull a better catch, too.

Which makes me wonder. In this dismal economic climate, should managers be trying to motivate through cynicism? Instead of telling someone how to be better at his job, tell him how not to screw up? Are people tired of the rah-rah approach and ready for a harsh dose of reality?

What do you think?

  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for and writes regularly for and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.