Do you ever wonder why, when we are given positive feedback, we either don’t hear it, don’t believe it, or only hear the negative? There is power in positive feedback. In addition, there is power in negative feedback; it’s just in the HOW and WHY we deliver it. Negative feedback, which can arise from conflict, when delivered appropriately and effectively, has many pro-social functions. Dr. Gottman, from the University of Washington, states it well; “A relationship without conflict would not be able to move forward.” Conflict and negativity allow us to identify patterns in relationships which don’t work or lack appropriate function. Research also suggest that the difference between successful and unsuccessful relationships is in the balance of positive and negative feedback.
So why is it we seem to focus on or hear the negative more than the positive? Why do we tend to give the customer service rep from NetFlix an earful when they mess up our movie cue, yet forget to mention to the flight attendant that they provided the most friendly and accommodating service you’ve ever had on an airline? How is it that we correct children several times in an hour with: “don’t touch that”,” stop yelling”,or” that’s not nice” and we forget to praise them for what they are doing right, “great effort on your math” “way to sit quietly for 20 minutes!”, “great job using kind and gentle words”.
By building positive supports into our relationships; at work, school, home, and in our communities, we can make significant changes in our lives, and the lives of many around us. It takes effort though both intentional and deliberate effort.
Here are some potential strategies to help build a more positive foundation in our relationships:
- Rapport Building:
Don’t like someone but need to get along with them anyway? Feel disconnected from your partner or child? Try creating a list of 3 things you know and like about the person. Yes, you can try. We ALL have positive attributes, and if you can’t seem to find any about someone, maybe spend more time getting to know them. Dig deeper. Use this knowledge you gain to build an authentic rapport and engage in conversation on a new level with your co-worker, child, partner, mother-in-law, etc.
- The 5:1 Rule: Give Praise 5 Times More Often Than Correction. Think about how you feel when someone gives you a pat on the back, Praises you for a job well done, or recognizes you in front of your peers. Now, juxtapose this to the feelings you have when someone tells you what you have done wrong, how you failed, or how you don’t do anything right. When you notice someone doing something right or above the bar, tell them. Point out their strengths before letting them know their limiters. Think of it this way: give them a compliment sandwich. Start the conversation with a few of their strengths and reflect on what they did right. Then, give them constructive feedback. Then, end with another compliment. You may be surprised at how much more receptive people are when they hear the good, with the constructive. It’s the 5:1 rule: for every one negative thing we hear about ourselves, it takes us 5 positives to balance the effects.
- Use Solution Focused Directions and Feedback:
Ever get frustrated when someone tells you what you have done wrong but they don’t tell you what to do or give you solutions? Ever feel like meetings at work are a waste of time because, instead of being productive and proactive, they end up being cyclical sessions of complaints and criticisms? Instead of just stating the problem, present a solution as well. This does not mean it has to be the perfect, only, or right solution; just make the effort. Get the ball rolling in the right direction. Tell people what to DO instead of what not to do. (By the way, for those of you with children, this is called a replacement behavior and it works like magic!)
It is also important to understand that all of these skills do not come easy. We all have different patterns and rhythms in our lives that have been shaped from our past and current experiences. Some of us are more resilient than others. Some of us see the glass half full and some see the glass half empty. Some of us don’t see the purpose of having a glass at all. The point is, we need all of us. What a boring world it would be if we were all alike. So, when you are hoping someone will change their behavior, the most effective thing you can do is change YOUR behavior. This takes practice, just like anything else. So, while you work out your body this month, your challenge is to also work out your mind. Your mental challenge of the month: apply these three principles to a frustrating situation in your life and see if someone reacts or treats you differently. See if the outcome shifts.