How to reply to: “Is that the best you can do?”

gordon-strachanIs one way of challenging others. It’s a slight twist on the carrot v stick approach.

Instead of praising others, possibly when you know they could do better, it encourages the person to see if they can up their game.

You begin to think, ‘Maybe he’s right. Is that the best I can do?’

The Scotland football manager, Gordon Strachan, said that as a young manager he would berate players to get more from them. It was the classic school of tough love approach. But it stopped working at a certain point.


The players simply got used to it and filtered about the abuse. Co-workers, family, and teenagers are the same. Verbal abuse has a short term impact but with diminishing returns.

Strachan had probably been exposed to this as a young player, so it became his default approach. But, like all motivation techniques, it only works in context.

‘Is that the best you can do?’

When he started to use this tactic instead, the players responded differently.

While most of us are taken aback when we hear this, it tends to make us analysis our efforts and, if all else fails, dig deep and prove to the other person that, ‘Yeah, maybe I can do better.’

It’s predictable but it does seem to work.

One small mistake to avoid

Try to avoid the following:

‘Is that the best you can do? Look at him. See what he can do.’

What I’ve seen, trying to motivate teenagers is one example, is that when you compare their efforts with someone else’s efforts, it backfires.

Suddenly the dynamics change. For teenagers, who are pretty insecure anyway, it implies that this other kid is on the right track and they need to catch up with them.

The focus shifts. Instead of competing with their own latent talents, they’re competing with someone else. If anything, this breeds resentment, jealousy, and frustration.

A simple ‘Is that the best you can do?’ can be very effective if the person feels you want them to succeed, and not dismiss their efforts.

If the words come from the wrong place, they’ll twig it.