I once suggested to a doctor struggling with employee motivation that he give his staff more positive feedback about the things they were doing well. Not his exact words, but his response was along the lines of, “I’m paying them to do a job, why should I have to stroke their egos?”
Point taken, but positive feedback serves a greater purpose than just boosting egos, it’s information. The same way employees need information about areas they need to improve upon, they also need to know what they are doing well so they continue to do it. In general, people tend to repeat behaviors that earn them positive recognition. For the purpose of this article, I would like to take this a step further and discuss the concept of “positive labeling”.
Positive labeling is built on the notion that the behavior you publicly praise will increase. Research has confirmed this through numerous studies for both children and adults. For example, publicly praising one of your employees for being a great team player and always stepping in to help others is likely to positively influence future behaviors. One of the reasons positive labels are so persuasive is because they are readily accepted (rarely will anyone argue with a positive label) and people feel compelled to live up to them. Consider how you would respond if your boss praised you for being a great team player and then a few days later asked you to help a co-worker with a project. Would you be more or less likely to help? According to research, the likelihood that you would comply is extremely high, because you would feel compelled to live up the standard that was bestowed upon you. The one that you likely embraced!
What other labels could you assign? Friendly, responsible, timely, etc.? This isn’t intended to manipulate people. Telling an egotistical, individualistic employee what a great team player he or she is will be unlikely to get the same results and will probably confuse and even upset other employees who hear you say this. However; when delivered to someone worthy of this “label”, it’s likely to reinforce more of the same behaviors. Don’t take my word for it – try it!
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