Have you ever thought about the number of times in your life as a child and as an adult you were reprimanded /punished for doing the wrong thing, the right thing in the wrong way or being late? Then too, how many times were you praised/rewarded for doing the right thing in the right way and being ahead of time or on time? If like most of us, you experienced punishment far more often than you received praise. The emphasis was on accentuating the negative, not accentuating the positive. Poor performance was not expected and was unacceptable; good performance was expected, as well as taken for granted. The mind set was, and still is, why praise/reward good performance when good performance is expected?

But, it wasn’t always that way. When your parents were accentuating the positive, you weren’t old enough to develop a long-term memory of the experiences. However, they did accentuate the positives. Just imagine your parents’ laughter, the signs of joy and happiness on their faces and the warm hugs you received when you first said “mama”, “papa,” “ball,” “dog,” and “cat.”

They also stimulated your curiosity by waving or hanging colorful birds, clowns and other things above your baby bed; and they praised/rewarded your curiosity -- your watching and reaching for them. Usually, your parents were coaching and encouraging you to do the things they praised/rewarded. Actually, they were using a process called “shaping.”

As an infant, you were not capable of getting into a lot of trouble. But, from time to time, you were introduced to a simple NO, a word likely to be spoken more and more harshly as you grew older.

Your parents marveled at each of your new behaviors and at your increasing curiosity, but, not forever. Two personal developments on your part, learning to crawl and to walk, coupled with your expanding curiosity, were among the things that led to your parents switching to accentuating the negatives, not the positives. Your simple curiosity driven acts, such as emptying kitchen cabinets and drawers, eating from the dog’s or cat’s bowl, climbing on furniture and removing plants from their pots, led to your parents’ increasing use of “NO,” “STOP THAT,” and “NOW YOU’VE DONE IT” -- all said without joy and happiness. These may have been accompanied with a swat on your rear. All of this punishment was intended to stop undesirable behavior. Rarely have parents made it a practice of catching older children doing something right and rewarding them immediately for doing the right thing, accentuating the positive.

From childhood through adulthood, your personal development and personal growth have been subject to a powerful principle of behavioral change … “Behavior is a function of its consequence.” Generally, when a specific behavior is followed immediately by a punishing experience, the behavior is unlikely to be repeated; when a behavior is followed immediately by a rewarding experience, it is more likely to be repeated.

Changing someone’s behavior, especially their performing new or complex manual or cognitive tasks, is best accomplished by a process called “shaping.” “Shaping” involves, at first, positively praising/rewarding a behavior that comes close to the desired behavior. The “shaping” process continues by selectively praising/rewarding only those subsequent behaviors that come closer and closer to the desired behavior that performs the task, correctly. The “shaping” process accentuates the positive. That means praising/rewarding only those behaviors that come closer and closer to the desired behavior until it is performed correctly and its performance can be accentuated with praise/reward.

When “shaping,” you don’t accentuate mistakes or false starts. You use them as “what not to do” learning experiences. Ask clarifying questions in a non-threatening manner, questions such as “What was it about the way I showed you how to do it that led to your doing it that way?” or “What did I say when describing it that led you to believe your approach would be correct?”.

When the correct behavior is established, it cannot be assumed it will continue. From time to time, the behavior has to be praised/rewarded to sustain it at a high level. It is the simple process of periodically, positively, reinforcing good performance and giving additional praise/reward for outstanding performance.

Once this teaching process is understood and can be practiced effectively, it becomes a time saving tool. Actually, it is a Time Management tool that greatly reduces personal development time.

Then too, parents could give more attention to catching their children doing something right and giving them praise and recognition for doing the right things, rather than focusing on punishment of undesirable behavior -- accentuating the negative. Also, fellow employees and subordinates should be praised/rewarded for doing the right things rather than wait on them to do the wrong things and reprimand/punish them -- accentuating the negative.

You can avoid the negative focus that causes most parents, fellow employees and bosses to accentuate the negative. Become a better observer of good performance and poor performance. Periodically reinforce good performance and give extraordinary rewards – raises, bonuses, public recognition – for outstanding performance. When assisting a fellow employee or subordinate climb the learning curve for a new task, use the “shaping” process described above to get quicker, better results. Actually, it’s one of many Time Management skills that can help you manage time better.

Some people hesitate to give praise because they do not know what to say to the trainee. If you have that problem, you will struggle with the “shaping” process. Don’t fret; there is a good source of things to say that provides praise for increasingly better performance in the “shaping” process.

Sylvan Learning Corporation helps struggling students, as well as outstanding students, learn better and retain more. In one of its publications,99 Ways to Say “Very Good,” there are all of the suggested statements you’ll need to accomplish the “shaping” process. If necessary, you can customize some of the statements to fit your particular situation. Below are 10 of the 99 statements. They illustrate the kind of simple, but powerful, statements that can help you shape new manual and/or cognitive skills. Statements such as these can become second-nature to you with practice …

1. That's IT!
2. It's all RIGHT!
3. Now you've figured it out.
4. One more try and you'll have it.
5. That's the WAY!
6. That's what I call a fine job.
7. Good memory!
8. Good thinking!
9. You're on the right track.
10. Your brain's really in gear today.

Start today with a commitment to praise good performance, at work, as well as at home. Focus on accentuating the positive and use less than desirable performance as “what not to do” learning experiences. Take a few minutes to build some mental scenarios involving real life situations in which you practice the above-mentioned techniques for saying "very good" in the right way at the right time.

It is not a sin to have poor reward and punishment skills and habits, but it is to keep them! For personal development and higher productivity from using better Time Management skills, tips, tools and strategies to help you create better employee relationships and gain more quality hours each day, go to …


Author's Bio: 

About the Author

For nearly 30 years, Dr. Larry Baker has been an internationally recognized consultant, coach, speaker, author and publisher. His articles, books, booklets, tape albums, movie scripts and personal assessment surveys cover many Time Management topics, including strategic, operational, performance planning and organizational design and structure.