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Inspiration and collaboration or motivation and competition? Language matters!

November 29, 2021  By Michelle Vincent


In this day and age, words are exchanged, processed and responded to. One word may have many meanings depending on the inflection of speech, paralanguage, delivery and various other aspects that impact the reception of these words. We use words such as ‘gratitude’ and ‘appreciation’ interchangeably, when these two words actually have very different and distinct meanings. For example, ‘gratitude’ means the quality of being thankful, and the readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness; in contrast, ‘appreciation’ means recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something. These are two very different experiences. Being grateful for an experience suggests a past experience which may not have been as pleasant, whereas being appreciative of an experience is simply that: appreciating a moment with no strings attached. Appreciative is a preference in feeling.

‘Inspiration’ and ‘motivation’ are two other words that may be used interchangeably and yet have very different meanings. ‘Inspiration’ is the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something – especially to do something creative – whereas ‘motivation’ is the reason or reasons a person has for acting or behaving in a particular way. Inspiration comes from within a person and is a much more powerful and consistent aspect; motivation comes from the outside, usually in what would be considered a reward of sorts. Inspiration carries more strength and consistency in predicting future behaviour whereas motivation is somewhat like a casino, needing reward to reinforce the behaviour.

‘Collaboration’ and ‘competition’ are not often used interchangeably, however they may be used together in a particular context. For example, when teams are comprised of more than one member, those members of that team may collaborate prior to competition. Generally speaking, collaboration brings people/members together for a likeminded opportunity whereas competition tends to divide and separate those members involved.

The moment we are scored on the deliverables we are to submit in order to participate in the process, the comparisons begin, and a competition ensues.


When we explore the organizational culture of policing, competition is often present during promotional processes, depending on the organization’s internal process. The moment we are scored on the deliverables we are to submit in order to participate in the process, the comparisons begin, and a competition ensues. The most successful businesses/organizations tend to promote leaders who are competent in their skillset, creative in their approach and recognize their strengths and areas where support is needed. Most importantly, these leaders are collaborators, always exploring for the greater good of the organization.

Considering the successful components in creating a healthy organizational culture, I would like to suggest that a focus on creating an environment whereby inspiration is the intention and collaboration the expectation may support this way of healthiness. An example of collaboration might be, when a policing organization considers shifting their members within various units, whether it be at the Sergeant/Detective level to the Superintendent level, a collaborative conversation is had to ensure the member is placed in a position where they love what they are doing and are competent at doing it, which will maintain their inspiration. By making them part of the conversation and decision-making process, that member may feel valued in terms of the collaboration process, which may support their desire to consider the greater good of the organization in times when changes are necessary.

Collaboration is inclusive, supportive, empowering and is so much more powerful energetically than competition, in which members vie against each other to beat their colleague and achieve their personal goals. In the highest of competitive sports, those participants are bettering their own scores, focusing on their own competencies and their own personal bests. The moment our focus goes outside of ourselves, the moment we are looking behind us or ahead – depending on our perception – at others, we lose every time.

Language matters. Where would you rather work at the end of the day? In an organization that is described as supporting collaborative decision-making, whereby inspiration on what you love to do most in the field of policing is the focus? Or the organization that is described as supporting competition with each other to see who those in charge feels is ‘the best’ for a promotion and/or position in a unit, using motivational tactics? I can sure tell you which one would work best for me!

Michelle Vincent PhD/MACP is a retired York Regional Police officer and the founder of The Haven, Ontario’s first non-profit, inpatient treatment centre exclusive to first responders and uniform personnel. Contact her at

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