Steer your Career
Mar 4, 2011
Positive Reinforcement: Not just for babies…
I’m a new parent. Among other things, this means that my leisure reading has changed from short stories and novels to Pat the Bunny and parenting books.
The other day, I was reading about child development and discipline, as we’re trying to figure out how to handle our 9-month-old’s new dinnertime activity: screaming.
I was reminded of my Psychology 101 class and good ol’ B.F. Skinner. Basically, there are 4 ways to change behavior according to Skinner:
1. Positive Reinforcement: Give something positive to increase a behavior (e.g. give a dog a treat every time he sits).
2. Negative Reinforcement: Take away something negative to increase a behavior (e.g. your mom nags you to clean your room, so you eventually clean your room to avoid her nagging).
3. Positive Punishment: Give something negative to decrease a behavior (e.g. your cat scratches you every time you pet her, so you stop petting her).
4. Negative Punishment: Take away something positive to decrease a behavior (e.g. take away playtime if your child misbehaves).
Most of the experts agree that positive reinforcement is the most effective and easiest to implement, with the lowest risk for negative consequences. Also, intrinsic rewards (e.g. praise) last longer than extrinsic rewards (e.g. treats). If I praise my daughter when she sits quietly at the table, then she will learn to do it more often.
Employees and babies are not one in the same (and neither are employees and dogs). But the principle still applies: If you reward your employees for good work, then the good work will continue. And while monetary rewards are nice, it’s the intrinsic rewards that have a lasting impact (i.e. don’t pay more, praise more), from simple “pats on the back” to a new challenging assignment. Even a “thank you” can go a long way, making employees feel more appreciated, more engaged, and therefore more likely to stick around.
It’s easier said than done. We all remember when our teacher’s attention would easily get diverted to the kid throwing paper airplanes, while the well-behaved kids went unnoticed. Bad behavior is disruptive, and we’re drawn into the drama.
You have to make a conscious, active choice to positively reinforce, but I promise it will be worth your while.
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