My brilliantly wordcrafted piece last week must have struck a nerve (I’m told I have a unique way of getting on lots of people’s nerves – it’s a gift) with a number of folks as I received more emails than any of my previous rantings have evoked.
As you may recall I talked about a colleague of a friend who occasionally joins us for coffee and shares with us his latest pitiful attempts at humour that are always inappropriate, and hysterically unfunny.
I mentioned how we have become complicit in his behaviour by laughing politely at his stories and saving our criticism of the inappropriateness of his humour until long after he had removed himself from our company.
I wrote that people treat us the way we train them to treat us.
Apparently many of you thought I was attempting to train you to respond and so you wrote to tell me of similar experiences you have had and how you realized your silence had contributed to undesirable behaviour being repeated.
I heard stories of inappropriate or unwelcome behaviour from bosses, spouses, friends, relatives, strangers, clients and service providers. Some of you even had the audacity to point your fingers at a few (ok, lots) of my own past behaviours.
And then, having put me in my place, you asked for help. You cited numerous examples and asked me how best to handle each of them.
You wanted my opinion.
You wanted my expertise.
You wanted the benefit of my vast experience.
Does this look like an advice column?
Do I sound like someone who knows what he’s talking about?
Do I come across as someone who has any knowledge at all?
My wise, old grandfather used to say that free advice is always worth what you pay for it.
So here goes.
Everything we do produces a consequence. There is no such thing as a behaviour without a consequence. And, as Dr. Aubrey Daniels teaches us in his numerous books, “Consequences alter the probability of a behaviour being repeated.”
In other word a consequence will either increase or decrease the likelihood that my friend’s friend will continue with his distasteful joke telling and that likelihood rests with us, his audience.
When we do something well and we are rewarded for it with recognition or a gift or money or a treat or a kind word or, in my case, chocolate, that reward is known as positive reinforcement and, if we enjoyed the reward (did I mention chocolate?) then we are likely to repeat that same behaviour in anticipation of further reward (any kind of chocolate).
As an aside, it fascinates me how rarely this is applied in the business world where the mantra of “I do 100 things well and no-one says a word to me. I do one thing wrong and I get to meet the whole management team” still seems to prevail.
To continue, we know that positive reinforcement of behaviour will increase the probability of that behaviour being repeated. What we often fail to recognize is that, because there cannot be a behaviour without a consequence, our silence in saying nothing to Tasteless Ted serves as the consequence to his behaviour and, this is important, the absence of critical feedback serves as positive reinforcement – our decision to say nothing about our displeasure is having the same affect as if we were praising him each time he tells a joke.
Sometimes, for example in a hierarchical environment, it is very difficult or even career limiting to offer critical feedback (it’s potentially uncomfortable to tell your boss he’s an idiot) as the consequence of our behaviour may not be positively reinforcing to us.
So perhaps prudence may prevent us from saying what we really want to say and we may need to explore other methods of producing the result we want – we may need to find another way of getting our boss to change his behaviour.
Remember the definition of positive reinforcement is “getting what you want” (there’s no such thing as bad chocolate) so we need to seek a different consequence to his behaviour that will give him what he wants without placing us in jeopardy.
The point of all of this is that your lives will be enormously enhanced in the most positive way if you develop the habit of providing positive recognition every time you encounter good performance.
Whenever someone does something really good take the time to praise them.
If they deliver exceptional value, give them an exceptional reward.
You’ll be so glad you did.
Till we read again.