I once worked with an Academic Leader who encouraged teachers to think about relationships with students as similar to a bank account. Positive interactions, they said, put “money in the bank.” Difficult conversations are withdrawals. If you haven’t been diligently depositing in your relationship “accounts,” challenging interactions will quickly deplete goodwill. Here are three strategies for front-loading the year with positive interactions.
Tip 1: Be aware of your praise-to-criticism ratio. Humans have a strong disposition to negativity bias–we attribute more significance to negative comments than positive ones. If a manager offers equal amounts of praise and critique, their direct reports will perceive the relationship as negative. Aim to give at least three pieces of positive feedback for each critique you offer.
Tip 2. Offer effective and meaningful praise. It’s tempting to believe that adults don’t need a lot of praise. (The internet seems to agree: search for “how to praise adults” on Google, and you get two hits.) Praise, however, helps people feel seen and validated. The best praise is direct, specific, and proportionate: “You did a great job with the seniors’ leadership workshop–it’s really made a difference in the way they interact with the ninth graders.”
Tip 3: Search out strengths. One element of that predisposition to negativity bias is that people often think that to improve performance, they need to eliminate deficits. That’s not true. Research shows that by focusing on their strengths, humans report increased quality of life and deeper engagement at work. Helping people identify their strengths and use them builds a positive community culture.
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