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The positive Reinforcers

Which are you? A positive or a negative force for those around you? Do you put people down? Make them feel bad? Or do you bring out the best in people? Do you help them feel good about themselves? It has been proven that people who feel good about themselves like people around them to feel good too. However, people who have low self-esteem feel the need to put others down, so they feel better than them.

This is not Manners 101, but essentially a human relations issue taking centre stage in professional team development and management. This goes beyond manners to affect the way we do business, and not only the way we deal with people at work. In business, it is important to look at things objectively and make the right decision. Making a wrong decision is not a sin, everybody does it; retracting a bad decision along with an apology is professional behavior. However, when we are uncomfortable about ourselves, then we start comparing ourselves with others and feel inferior. The next step is to start looking for ways to feel better about ourselves. One seemingly easy —  but wrong —  way is to make others feel bad about themselves.

With such an attitude, the most important thing to a person becomes “keeping score” against others at work, making sure we score higher than everybody else. If they score higher, we put them down so we feel better. Then, the score becomes more important than the job itself, and that is when we stop admitting or correcting mistakes. It becomes more important that we look perfect to others, even if we are wrong, than to do the right thing. This domino effect always stems from low self-esteem.

Many ills come from this problem beyond just admitting and correcting mistakes. Some people feel that in every business situation, others are judging them, as if others are holding a scorecard for them. Just like in gymnastics, when one is performing in front of judges and waiting anxiously to see their score. What a stressful situation to be in.

When people hold your scorecard, then what you care about is how people perceive you, and then your mind is preoccupied with that instead of trying to do the right thing. The right thing is not always what others want you to do, and sometimes doing the wrong thing while giving lip service to scorekeepers is also a problem. When someone says something but does the opposite, there is not much self respect there. Also, sooner or later scorekeepers and others will find out what the person is really about. As the saying goes, you can fool some people all of the time and all people some of the time, but you cannot fool all people all the time.

People who put others down often do not realize it. They write it off as “teasing” or “joking.” Not true. They are putting others down, and they cannot cover it but behind teasing or joking. What to do if you are faced with someone who puts you down? Refuse it mentally and take action against it. Now, some people think the right action is a counter-attack.  When one engages in negative behavour to defend oneself from negative behavour, however, it is counter-productive. Instead, in a positive manner, express how you feel towards the negative actions of the other party and ask them not to do it again. As simple as that. They might argue, or show they are surprised that you were offended, or even tell you that you cannot take a joke. That is normal. But rest assured, the frequency in which they behave that way will start diminishing until they stop completely. But you have to help them by pointing out the negative behavior every time and telling them that you do not accept it.

Back to positive re-enforcers. These are people who are at peace with themselves, and can therefore care for and understand others much better. They know that, just as they make mistakes, others do as well, so they work with people to help them correct mistakes.

Think about the people you feel good when you are around; people who seem to give you a positive boost of good energy whenever you see them, hear from them, or read their e-mails. These are probably positive re-enforcers. Think of people who make you feel bad about yourself, or uncomfortable. These are the negative ones.

In the end, we are creatures of habit, and even the people with the best self-restraint will be affected by their surroundings, so make yours healthy. Think of the last time someone gave you a word of encouragement, like recognizing a good job you have done, or appreciated a favor. How did that make you feel? Energy boosts like this increase morale, better productivity, and inspire action.

Think of the last time someone put you down by criticising your habits, looks, or demeanour. How did that feel? Really? We all would love to say it did not affect us. But in reality it does. Now think of the time after the incident. Usually productivity goes down, and so does morale, and the situation is followed with a period of feeling down or low productivity. It even makes you feel like putting others down as well.

What if your boss or peers are negative people? Run away as fast and as soon as you can. If you cannot, then confront the behavior and stop it. Do not say to yourself “I can handle it” or “I cannot confront the boss’s behavior.” Of course you can. No one is completely above being affected by other people. We do have our different levels of immunity against negativity, but at the end, everyone will be affected.

Try this exercise for one day. Try to use positive re-enforcement at a rate of five to one. For every time you feel you said or did something negative, try to do five positives. At end of day, sit down and tally your results. How does it feel?

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