Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Catch" the Good in Others


I have a teenage daughter at home.  She's now got her learner's permit, so on the one hand I have a personal chauffeur, but it also means that she is constantly testing limits as a driver, voicing her opinions about the rules of the road, and trying out new behaviors as she steps in a major way toward adult responsibilities.  And it also means I read her high school's parents' newsletter for the tips and suggestions on how to keep a relatively pleasant home environment for the family (I need all the help I can get!).  


A recent suggestion for parents of teens in the newsletter reminded me of a great way to bring out the best in other people:  "catch" them doing something great, and make a positive comment about it.  As young people mature, they become far more responsive to positive reinforcement than they are to negative punishment of undesirable behaviors.


That principal of "catching" the good applies as well to managing adults in the workplace as it does to influencing teenage behavior.  It's a little more difficult, I think, to give positive feedback and ignore negative, ineffective, or unproductive professional actions.  I suppose every paycheck is a form of positive feedback about adequacy of performance.  But if the goal is to coach and develop excellent professional performance, it just makes sense that positive feedback may be more likely to increase desirable performance than criticism of unsatisfactory performance will suppress the bad--it might do that, but it may also destroy morale and confidence, and it may not provide much useful feedback about what IS desired performance.  I suppose that is a pretty obvious statement, yet there seems to be far more of an emphasis in performance reviews on giving low marks for the poor performers than there is on giving "atta boys" for jobs well done.  


Try it tomorrow: "catch" someone on your team doing something well and tell them so.  It doesn't have to be a groundbreaking achievement, just good performance of an ordinary daily task that has been well done--and that you would like to see as a routine baseline for performance.  Make it a part of daily interaction, not just a line in the annual written appraisal.  

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