Imagine if you threw rose petals at people. At the end of the day your hands would smell like rose petals. On the other hand, what if you threw elephant poo at everyone you met. The magic of positive reinforcement is not well understood. Put very simply, what you reinforce is what you get more of. If you acknowledge and reinforce behaviour it is likely to be repeated.
There are two ways of reinforcing behaviour. Oh by the way, positive reinforcement is anything you say or do that the other person takes as positive reinforcement. It needs to be as close to the performance as possible.
Back to two ways of reinforcing behaviour. Positive reinforcement follows the performance – it can be a simple ‘thank you’, a gift, a note. The person is encouraged to repeat the performance. You noticed and you showed that you noticed.
Negative reinforcement also works.The person repeats the performance to avoid getting another negative reinforcement from you.This doesn’t work as well as the positive. They may only repeat the performance when you are around and they will only do enough to stay out of your bad books.
If you ignore good behaviour and only notice poor behaviour you run the risk of seeing the good behaviour disappear because it is not being noticed and seeing the poor behaviour reduced ‘when you are present’.
Have you noticed how careful people drive when they see a speed camera? No incentive to drive well, only punishment if you don’t. Same with seat belts. There is an immediate negative reinforcement- you need to take time to settle in and your clothing gets crumpled. The positive is in the future… if you have an accident. The negative is now and certain.
So… let’s get started on using positive reinforcement. Look for opportunities to apply positive reinforcement. When people behave well, comment immediately. Make your comment positive and as close to the performance as possible. Ignore poor behaviour, if you can, and wait for any movement in the right direction. Acknowledge and reinforce any approximations towards good performance.
Do you want your hands to smell like roses or elephant poo?
If you have any stories about the effectiveness of positive reinforcement, please send them to me. My most recent example was at a hotel. As I finished signing my name, the person at the desk commented ‘ lovely handwriting’. You won’t believe the care I took when signing for my meals.