Positivity – the key to engagement

Yesterday evening I was watching the One Show in the hotel while away delivering a training course. Now this was on as background noise while I was eating but I became interested in the subject.The report was one of a series looking at the seven deadly sins and this time looked at pride.

Although the report was less about pride and more about self-belief, the experiment that followed was an interesting one. A presenter gave a problem solving task to a group of people. The instructions were to spend a specific amount of time thinking about the problem to make plans and he left with the words ; “it should only take you a couple of minutes”. There were 5 people in this group and immediately, 2 of the group took the lead making decisions and, essentially, resolving the problems. Here comes the second part of the experiment. The group was then tasked with counting dots on a screen in a very short period of time. To cut it short… the presenter returned and asked two of the group to leave.

The remaining 3 were praised for their exceptional results and that, in fact, they had scored higher than he did earlier. Their reaction was superb. They all expressed surprise and, I guess, just a little pride in their results. Impressive – how good must they have felt?

Wait – there was a third task. This time the group reconvened and was given another problem to solve. Guess who were the three who improved the most? Yes … it was the three people praised in the second task. In fact, they hadn’t scored that exceptionally, and the presenter hadn’t done the task himself at all so there was nothing to compare. However, the three who were given such positive praise were the three who naturally took a back seat in the first task while the other two quickly took the lead and made the decisions.

What was the result? The three who took a back seat in the first task, gained confidence and became more involved this time round. Now why does that surprise everyone? This is the power of positive feedback and what effect it has on our performance and motivation. This can be linked to all aspects of our lives:

Children whose parents praise them when they do well rather than scold them when they do not will find their behaviour improve and grow;

Employers who especially give recognition for work well done and hard work reaching goals will likely see an improvement in their workers’ and motivation and performance;

L&D professionals who build their learners’ confidence by boosting their confidence with positive phrases and
encouragement will result in more motivated learners, better quality work and improved rates of application back in the workplace.

None of the above need cost a thing – the right words are often enough. It’s amazing what effect positivity has on our whole world.

Let’s make a better start to 2010 with a pledge to have a more positive affect on those around us.

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