Some time ago my wife and I were beginning the dreaded potty-training ritual with my youngest son Jack. Like most parents, we started off with the best intentions. Simply stated, for every time Jack would use the bathroom appropriately we would reward him with a little gift. We were certain this would generate the right behavior. Unfortunately, he never seemed to connect the dots. Jack did not learn how to master this important craft even though minor forms of bribery. After two months of failed attempts we gave up on this approach. Since tangible rewards did not net the results we were looking for, we decided to go the other direction. Maybe showing disappointment and frustration outwardly would lead him to see the light? After several weeks of this, we quickly realized that negative responses to his actions caused an even worse outcome. Clearly, he did not care for this approach and we felt like we were getting farther and not closer to the objective. Following close to ten weeks of banging our head against the wall stemming from a combination of offering gifts to outwardly showing our frustrated emotions, we tried a new approach.
My wife and I decided to praise him for his actions regardless of the outcome. Every time he did or did not make it to the restroom, we put a smile on our face and confirmed to him that we were supportive of him in good times and in bad. And an interesting thing started to happen….he slowly started to figure it out. It did take a few more weeks, but Jack really seemed to feed off of how happy we got every time he successfully accomplished the mission. In fact, every time he did it the right way we treated it like a mini-party in our house. We would yell and scream for joy. To see Jack’s face light up every time we did this was magical.
After trying three different approaches, it was interesting that we realized the best results with our son were through positive verbal reinforcement. Now that Jack is fully functional in this capacity now, it occurred to me that my experiences with him during this process have a direct correlation to how I should approach my communication with co-workers.
As I reflected on my management and leadership style at work and considered how my fellow employees responded to my actions, it dawned on me that I was not using verbal praise and recognition consistently enough. After studying more on this topic, I learned that whether you are a young child or seasoned veteran in the workplace, we all thrive best in an environment where we are regularly praised verbally for our good deeds. This is particularly effective when positive statements come from a boss or someone whom you respect. So I took all of this to heart and for the last year or so I have been focusing in on constantly praising my team members for events that deserve recognition. I provide this feedback face-to-face, via email and by delivering handwritten notes. While I find that the in-person acknowledgement of success is the most effective, it does help to add variety to how you deliver recognition to your co-workers (especially for those who receive it frequently). If you have not taken a minute to provide positive reinforcement to a team member recently, try giving it a shot right away. Take it from me, verbal recognition can provide long-lasting thoughts in the minds of the recipients. I hope these comments not only motivate you to start something new with your team, but also encourage you to make this part of your overall management and leadership approach in business and in life!