“Compliment her at least ten times a day and reinforce the behavior you want. Keep it up for 21 days and you will see a change in behavior.” This was advice that an expert in child development recently gave to me about my teenage daughter. I get frustrated that she isn’t more “responsible” about cleaning her room, doing her homework and remembering to feed the dogs. This expert told me that recent research has shown that as parents we tend to criticize and point out what our children are doing that we don’t want them to do – i.e. I say, “You didn’t clean your room again!?” The research shows, though, that if we catch our children doing something right and reinforce, reinforce, reinforce as many as ten times throughout the day, the child’s behavior will actually start to shift in the direction we do want – and away from what we don’t want.
I began to think about how this advice could cover many different situations. I had a recent conversation with a coaching client. She was talking about the environment and culture in her current firm. She said, “It seems every small thing we do wrong, we are publicly reprimanded but when we do something right no one is even looking!” This was a poignant comment, because these are grown-up professionals. They know what their jobs are and what they need to do. Even a healthy adult was questioning: Why is there so much criticism and not enough praise?
Are we afraid to praise people too much? Do we feel that someone will get a big head, or become an egomaniac if we catch them doing things right and let them know? Is it just easier to criticize rather than compliment?
I’m not suggesting that many people aren’t really good at catching others doing things right. Even my daughter would tell someone that I am a mom who gives praise and compliments often. But the research was compelling and it really took me back. Do I praise her ten times a day, and do I praise her for things that I hope she does, instead of what she is doing? Definitely not. It was a foreign concept to me to praise her for something I want, rather than what I am already seeing. Point out how responsible she is when I don’t see her as responsible? Isn’t that counter-intuitive?
And yet, I decided to start doing it. The amazing thing was that I found she actually IS more responsible than I was giving her credit for being. I was able to find multiple times throughout the day that she behaved in extremely responsible ways. The compliments were genuine and heartfelt. I started to wonder if I had made up in my own mind that “teenagers are irresponsible” and if that was a filter I was using to look at her.
This week, try this with someone in your universe who might be behaving in ways that you don’t like. See if you can identify the behavior and then find ten times they do something contrary to what you have come to expect of them. If nothing else, the person will be more attracted to you. We like people who find joy and happiness by our actions, and we tend to push away those people whom we repel! Operate with the law of attraction and see what happens.