Leadership Positivity: In Praise of Praise
As scientists study the brain and learn more about how we achieve optimal functioning, the term positivity has finally captured business leaders' interests. What researchers are discovering about positive emotions at work is essential knowledge for dental leaders who want to take their practices to higher levels of performance.
Being positive isn't simply about being nice and giving in, nor does it mean avoiding tough conversations with under-performing employees. Both are critical for optimal performance - but the desire to be recognized, praised, and considered important is our deepest need. Yet in a study done by the Saratoga Institute in California, considered by many to be the world leader in third-party exit interviewing and employee-commitment surveying, 60% of employees say they feel ignored or taken for granted.
The bottom line: Praise more than you criticize.
Researchers actually tabulated the number of times people in a corporate setting were criticized and how many times they were praised by their boss. When there was one praise for each criticism, people felt as though they had a totally negative relationship with their boss. When the ratio was changed to two praises to one reprimand, people still thought their boss was all over them. It wasn’t until they got to a ratio of four praises to one criticism that people began to feel as if they had a good relationship with their boss!
Think of the power of a reprimand - or even the perception of a reprimand - if one negative word can only be balanced by four positive words. It’s clear that if you as a dental leader don’t start giving a lot of praise, the people who work for you will see you are negative and unfair. Every time you criticize someone, hopefully you’ll make it a point to catch that person doing something right four times - and you’ll give them a praise.
The 4:1 positivity-to-negativity ratio is the tipping point for individuals and business teams to go from average to flourishing. When you experience and express four times as much positive as negative emotion, you pave the way for excellence and high performance. Most of us experience a ratio of 2:1 (or less).
Despite these scientific findings, many dental leaders are hesitant to offer praise. The most ridiculous reason for not praising that I’ve heard is, “If I praise someone a lot, she’ll slack off.” Certainly you don’t want to praise “too much.” That's a legitimate concern. The key is to avoid empty, unearned praise. Remember, the praise must be truthful and specific – i.e. not "Nice job" but "Thank you for being so attentive to Mr. Jones this morning when the office was so busy. It really helped everyone to feel calmer.” Praise should be tied to clear expectations and performance standards. Without these, praise has no context or meaning.Human performance is inconsistent - even world-class athletes have off days. Yet, many dental leaders focus on their employees' shortcomings when coaching and providing feedback. Sure we all have "opportunities for improvement," but by identifying and building on employees’ strengths you will produce better results than focusing on faults. Next time you're evaluating someone, remember that your goal is to raise their average performance, not critique a particularly good or bad day.
Don't hold back the praise because of a few missteps. It's just as important to recognize and reinforce strengths as it is to point out where people fall short.
Praise strengthens the relationships you have with your staff. They need to know you care about them enough to pay attention to what they are doing. They also want to know their contributions are genuinely appreciated. Employees who frequently receive appropriate praise for positive contributions are often more receptive to corrective feedback. When you show that you have your employees’ best interests at heart, they are more open to hearing how they can improve.
One of the most basic findings in psychology is that rewarding a specific behavior increases the likelihood of the behavior being repeated. Praise serves as an important reward and motivator for good work. Praise people when they do things right and they will do it more. Better yet, others will follow their lead.
Here’s my challenge to you. Keep track of your praise-to-criticism ratio. Over the course of a typical day, count the number of times you voice positive to negative statements. Then record the totals at the end of each day. Tally your count on a weekly basis. Avoid relying on tangible, easy-to-implement solutions revolving around pay, benefits, and trendy perks. The most powerful solutions revolve around the more challenging intangibles, such as leadership positivity.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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