One of my favorite parts of the movie Monsters, Inc was when Sulley and Mike first discover that laughter is significantly more powerful than screams. The same applies, I believe, to positive versus corrective feedback. [For the purposes of this discussion, positive feedback means I like the behavior and corrective feedback means I don’t like the behavior].
I’m a big proponent of giving feedback as the situation is happening. If a restaurant includes a website on the receipt, I jot down a few notes on the back and log-on at night. If there’s a comment card available at the store, I’ll fill it out. I earnestly feel that feedback is the only thing anybody will ever give you for FREE and has the potential to improve your life. At the very least, all feedback, positive or corrective, has in some form allowed me to gain some new insight about myself or the person delivering the feedback. Even when the feedback was non-illuminating (I already knew via other sources) or wasteful (no value add, cruel, etc) I learned something about the feedback giver - regardless, I learned something and learning = gain. I feel that positive feedback, however, goes the furthest in improving a person’s countenance.
At times, we can get so focused on what we’re not getting, focused on providing corrective feedback (e.g. “Miss, my food is cold”; “Sir, this is not the service that I expected”; “Excuse me, why is this taking so long?”) that we fail to understand how much more powerful positive feedback is to achieving long term behavioral change. How often do we go out of our way to recognize the waiter when he did something RIGHT; even if he was just “doing his job”? How often do we ask to “speak to the manager” to publicly commend the grocery store check-out girl for her expedient processing of your groceries? Personally, I find it more invigorating to look for the good of the event versus the bad.
A simple token of appreciation or notice can profoundly energize (laughter vs. screams). A simple, “hey, you’re doing well” or “I noticed you how you handled this and you did good” and of course, “thank you” can fundamentally alter the mood of your and the receiver’s day.
Special thanks for Justin for taking time out of his day to say “good job”.
Thinking about the ends v. the means...
My wife and I recently implemented a scaled reward system for our kids in order to improve the morning and evening routine. I.e. we wanted (nay, needed) a way to motivate the boys to get ready to go to school in the morning - as well as getting to bed at the prescribed hour at night - without all the fuss and whining and, hopefully, with less stress. So we implemented a weekly tracking and end-of-week reward incentive-based system. The ROEs are simple: if at the end of the week they successfully navigated the morning or evening session all five days, they each get a $1 per session (max weekly benefit = $2 / child). The scaled portion of the incentive system comes into play at the end of the month: if at the end of the month they achieved at least 75% total success rate (30 / 40 combined sessions), the child gets a book of their choosing (fortunately, they both love books so still a valuable reward in their eyes). We scaled the reward system because, as a family, we don’t value perfection, just progress.
Before implementing, however, my wife and I debated whether the ends justify the means. Specifically, are we rewarding our kids for actions that they should inherently be doing selflessly themselves? Is this a bribe or an incentive? Are we getting ourselves, and our boys, on a slippery slope of strictly reward-based actions? Will they forever stop being good unless we pay their ransom? It doesn’t appear that way, at least so far. We both concluded that short of loss of life or limb (e.g. there is no reward for NOT jumping on your brother’s spine) small reward systems paired with heavy positive reinforcement and long term goals yield pretty consistent results.
While it is still too early to determine how long the boys will remain engaged in this little experiment, over the course of one month, the system has worked fantastically and the rewards are valued by each child. Nobody is stressed in the morning (or night) and they’re both excited to get themselves ready and track their accomplishments on the calendar. Moreover, they’re learning about money management and planning; both are budgeting for some “significant” purchase in the future.
The line between “bribe” and “incentive” is gray and my wife and I both agreed that we have to be judicious in linking reward systems to behavior. So, yes, they are still required to keep their rooms in order, put laundry away, help out around the house, eat their vegetables and get daily exercise...with no bartering. The rest, at least at this stage and age, is fair game. Bring it boys.
What is the difference between being comfortable versus being complacent? I have no idea, so I challenge myself. Challenge my thinking, my parenting, my husband-ing; attempt to challenge my assumptions and my understanding of things. I won't get it right all the time so I welcome all constructive feedback. The goal? To "...be satisfied with life always but never with one's self." (George Jean Nathan)