“Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.“- Lou Holtz
Ability is what you are capable of doing. Think of something you do, and on a scale of 1 to 10, what would you rate yourself on how well you do it? How would other people rate you on the same task? Is it higher, lower, or about the same? What about your ability to perform different tasks?
Motivation determines what you do, but again, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your motivation? How would other people rate your motivation? Is it higher, lower, or about the same? What about your motivation toward different tasks?
Attitude determines how well you do something. Think of something you do and then on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate yourself on how well you do it? How would other people rate you on the same task? Is it higher or lower, about the same, and does it change when you think of different tasks?
As far as generalizations go, the initial statements are true. Ability is what you are capable of doing, motivation does determine what you do, and attitude does determine how well you do it. On an individual basis the statements are also true; we can rate our own level of ability, motivation, and attitude for ourselves.
The assumptions come in to play when other people rate us; and when we attempt to rate other people when it comes to ability, motivation, and attitude (and everything else for that matter). The biggest assumption is that every person asked to rate themselves on such personal qualities is going to self-report accurately.
People rating themselves are not necessarily as accurate on self-reports of ability, motivation, or attitude as one might expect. There are several reasons for this, some of which have nothing to do with intentional deception or delusion. It depends on how wide or narrow your view might be or how it changes over time.
For instance, I would rate myself an 8 in cooking ability; a 9 on motivation to be a good cook, and a 9 on attitude. At one time those ratings would have been much lower because I did not enjoy cooking; I would have said 5, 4, and 4.
My niece and nephew and some rather unlucky friends that had to eat my cooking back then would have rated me a 2, 1, and 1. I changed my attitude about cooking, so ability and motivation improved. Someone rating my cooking today would be purely subjective; based on experiences in cooking, eating, and how much they like or dislike me.
The next biggest assumption is that every person asked to rate others has a god-like view of the abilities, motivation, and attitudes of those others, and thus, some level of magical expertise in judging other people accurately. Other related assumptions go like this:
- The individual rating or judging others will always be free from negative biases.
- We can rate best those we know the best.
- People can accurately rate total strangers if they have enough practice.
- People rate others the same way they rate themselves.
Nobody on this planet is free of subjective biases; our background, education, experiences, and relationships with other people all affect the way we view the world and other people in it, for better or for worse, so biases can be positive or negative.
Blogging for LiveJournal years ago taught me some valuable lessons, one of which is that we tend to delude ourselves when it comes to how well we know someone else. We assume we know everything there is to know about spouses, partners, children, close friends. At best you might know 65-75% of everything there is to know about a spouse.
Unless you were born at the same time, same place, to the same family, grew up together and literally never spent a waking moment apart, it is impossible to know 100% of another person. Even if you could, you would still just about have to be a capable of mind-reading them to know everything; every single thought.
In the first year of blogging I came to the abrupt realization that most of my friends and family knew less than 20% of what my life was like or what I thought about anything. I also noticed that some people would only accept a small slice of the person I was, on their terms rather than mine, and would pretend the rest of me did not exist.
People cannot rate anyone accurately, total strangers or otherwise, without extensive training and practice doing so. What they can do is operate from stereotypes, prejudices, anecdotal evidence, and hearsay. They can make generalizations based on extensive study of large groups, and rely on training in behavioral cues. Or all of the above.
And given what I experienced first-hand in LiveJournal my first year as a blogger, people are really bad about reading other people, especially in a face-to-face context. People make a lot of assumptions based on appearance, including positive or negative biases. That first year I heard “wow, I had no idea you had a brain” from way too many friends.
People rate or judge others differently than they rate themselves. We tend to rate ourselves in a situational context. We tend to rate or judge others in terms of internal character traits or flaws. Positive and negative biases can influence this tendency and if we know and like someone we will be more likely to extend a situational attribution.
As an example, I might explain that I accidentally broke a glass because it slipped out of my hand while I was drying it and my hands were still wet. The glass broke because of the situation rather than because I did something wrong. If a friend of mine broke a glass doing the same thing, I might consider the event as situational as well.
If a stranger, or someone I disliked broke the glass, I might decide it was because that person was careless, sloppy, or maybe they broke the glass on purpose. All of this however, comes into play when we consider ability, motivation, and attitude; ours, and that of others.
Now how do you think all of this plays out in workplace settings, between yourself and co-workers? Supervisors and subordinates? Performance evaluations? What about during interviews with hiring managers, background checks with previous jobs and references?