The praise to criticism ratio: get it right!

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Are YOU guilty of dishing out more criticism than praise?

Everyday my phone reminds me to pay someone a compliment. I started this habit after much research into how people respond better to positive strokes and praise rather than criticism. This may seem blatantly obvious – but in reality it’s not so easy to practice.

This is because our default setting is to constantly scan for threats – up to five times a second in fact. This state of high-alert helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors survive against predators. In a modern society we don’t need to maintain such paranoia but unfortunately it takes more than 50,000 years to evolve – so here we are, stuck with our hunter-gatherer brains, for now at least!

DON’T do what comes naturally!

Our brain is geared for survival – not happiness. Therefore we have to learn to counter the constant vigilance for threat and negativity. My phone prompts me to do this everyday – it reminds me to offset my natural, inherent state and focus on the positive.

As a rule of thumb we should offer at least three praises to one criticism. Research shows that the highest performing teams thrive on nearly six positive comments to every negative one! Teams with lower ratios do not perform so well.

Praise and recognition for a job well done is extremely powerful but the positive effects can only be sustained if offered on a regular basis. Research indicates that employees who report inadequate recognition are three times more likely to say they will leave the following year.

“Won’t I sound fake?”

People often ask me sceptically “won’t praising people so often sound fake?”. My reply is that it’s strange that criticism never feels fake, but paying a compliment does! This is just more evidence of how our brains are geared to focus on the negative and gloss over the good stuff. We take criticism to heart, but our frequent response to praise is to shrug it off.

At first, this level of praise may feel somewhat contrived. But like any new skill – the more you practise, the more natural it becomes. For praise to have maximum impact, it needs to be delivered effectively and the key is to be specific and genuine. Generic appreciation such as ‘good work’ won’t reap the same benefits as ‘your persistence and hard work really paid off in winning this new account – well done’

Being praised triggers a natural high

Positivity is contagious and good employee engagement programmes institutionalise best practice and positive thinking in the workplace.

The Japanese National Institute for Psychological Sciences shows that the neurological impact of praise activates the same part of our brain as receiving cash!

Scientific evidence confirms praise is a win-win scenario

Praise and recognition costs nothing and studies indicate it can even be as effective as giving a financial reward. Being praised triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the reward and pleasure centres of the brain. As well as making us feel good, dopamine can also contribute to innovative thinking and creative problem-solving. So praising people makes good business sense!

Your people make the difference – keep them happy

If you want to be the #1 place to work AND get top results from your people take a look at our employee engagement solutions or join us for a bite-size seminar that offers a guaranteed learning experience and tangible benefits you can apply the minute you return to work.

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