Maybe it’s my decade of trying to look the part of a corporate executive, but I take delight in the freedom to rock a t-shirt and jeans to accentuate my unshaven face.
But, here’s the rub. My kids hate it when I don’t shave.
Despite them getting bigger and bigger every day, there’s still a lot of hugs and kisses to go around at our house. And, they like their daddy’s face to be smooth and clean-shaven. I suppose I don’t blame them. The prickliness doesn’t really affect me, but I can see how it would be annoying to them.
When my beard is growing out, my kids frequently tell me “you need to shave tomorrow!” or, if they are feeling polite, “will you please shave tomorrow?”
Eventually, they finally break me down and I shave (even if I don’t have to for work reasons).
And, you know what typically happens after I shave?
Most of the time, they don’t even notice. Sometimes, because I selfishly want credit, I will point it out to them. They typically enthusiastically (and briefly) respond “yay!” and then go back to whatever it is that they were doing.
This was a reminder for me about how tricky it is to do recognition in a way that promotes desired behavior and discourages undesired behavior.
I get far more attention from my kids for not shaving (the undesired behavior) than I do when I shave (the desired behavior). So, despite their desires, because I’m human and I crave their attention, they are actually nudging me in the wrong direction.
We fall into this same trap at work every day. We provide fuel to undesired behaviors by giving those behaviors the attention that we all crave.
The key to using recognition effectively is to understand this very fundamental truth about us as humans. We crave acknowledgment and attention and will change our behavior based on where we can get it.
If you are a leader or you just want to influence the behavior of those around you, consider these questions:
- What is the behavior you desire? Ensure you are clear on exactly what kind of behavior you are after so you can recognize it when you see it. Too often, we can only articulate the behaviors we don’t want to see and not those we do.
- Where are you investing your attention? Reflect on your interactions with the people you hope to influence. Have your interactions been primarily focused on undesired behavior? Have you been giving reinforcement to the desired behavior through your attention and acknowledgment?
- How specifically can you give more attention to the desired behavior? Often, this requires a conscious effort to notice proactively the desired behavior (like putting a reminder in your calendar each morning as a prompt). When you do notice the behavior, ensure you give the individual some positive acknowledgment.
It’s easy to dismiss or overlook the significance our own behavior has on those around us. But, even as someone who studies the science of human behavior and motivation, I have to admit that I am just as easily influenced. Once my kids figure out to shower me with positive reinforcement when I shave, my razor budget will take a significant hit.
By shifting where you invest your attention, what kind of impact might you have on the people around you?