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Employee Management Expert Aubrey Daniels What's the best way to influence employees' behavior? Aubrey Daniels tells you how to put positive reinforcement to use. . .correctly.

By Kimiko L. Martinez

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're a good manager, right? Positive. Upbeat. You tellyour employees how much you appreciate them. You implementrecognition and rewards for a job well done. Heck, you even tellthem what they're doing right before you tell them whatthey're doing wrong. But what you thought you knew aboutpositive reinforcement may be all wrong. And what you thinkyou know might hurt you. In fact, it probably already does.

Other People's Habits: How to Use Positive Reinforcement to Bring Out the Best in People Around YouWe've asked Dr. Aubrey C. Daniels, author of Other People's Habits: How to Use PositiveReinforcement to Bring Out the Best in People Around Youand president of international consulting firm Aubrey Daniels& Associates to explain the power of positive reinforcementand how it can benefit your employees' performance.

Entrepreneur.com: Your book says that "positivereinforcement is the most powerful interpersonal tool a person canuse to improve a personal relationship...yet it is the mostmisunderstood and misused." Why is it so powerful?

Aubrey Daniels: Positive reinforcement is the only thingthat happens following a behavior that causes people to want to dowhat they've just done again. When someone does something andthey get negatively reinforced-they do something in order to avoidsome negative consequence, [which] can be something as simple as afrown or getting yelled at-what that does is causes them to do justenough to get by. Positive reinforcement accelerates performance,so the more you get, the more you want to do the behavior.That's why it's powerful. And it's so powerful that ifyou do it at the wrong time or in the wrong way, you'll getmore of the wrong thing.

Entrepreneur.com: What are some of the wrong waysmanagers use it and what are the effects?

Daniels: One of the most common ways that people misuse[positive reinforcement] is they don't understand that it'svery personal. What's effective for you as a reinforcer isgoing to be different for me. Think of positive reinforcers as:What would people spend their free time and money to be able to door have? If you could do anything you wanted to do at a givenmoment, what would you choose to do? That would identify what wouldbe a reinforcer for you.

There are a lot of things that don't cost money that arepositive reinforcers, like attention and verbal praise and thosekinds of things. But those aren't reinforcers fromeverybody to everybody. [One person may covet] praise, andanother person may despise it.

Entrepreneur.com: What are some of the dos and don'tsof positive reinforcement?

Daniels:Do it immediately. Effectivereinforcement begins to diminish almost immediately after thebehavior occurred, so the best time to reinforce is when you catchsomeone in the act. If you do something that's meritorious atone point in time, your behavior doesn't stop. And often, bythe time somebody gets around to recognizing it, your attitude mayhave deteriorated, your behavior may have deteriorated.

In my own life, I get in a situation where at some pointI'll say to my wife, "Hey, you've had your hair fixeddifferently." And guess what the response is. "Well,it's about time you noticed." I'm trying to dosomething positive, but I'm getting punished for it because mytiming was so bad. So when organizations use rewards and six monthslater the person gets it, it has a dubious effect on the behaviorthat occurred six months ago.

Establish a relationship. The first thing you've gotto do is establish yourself as a positive reinforcer, and the wayyou do that is by simply pairing reinforcement. In other words, ifyou find something that's important to the other person, thenthey tend to like you better as a result of that. If I were to saysomething to you like, "I like that dress" and you likethe dress, then you're probably going to like me better becauseI said that.

There are a lot of very nice people who are very poorsupervisors and managers, but there's no truly effectivemanager, over the long haul, who is not also well liked.

Don't pair it with negativity. There are a lot ofpeople who will say something positive and then take it away byeither asking for more or qualifying it with a "but.""You did a good job, but.." What's the neteffect of that? So don't use "but" when reinforcing,and don't attempt to punish and reinforce at the same time.There's no research I'm aware of that says that'seffective. There's a lot that says it's ineffective, andyet it's the most common way people are taught to correctperformance.

Entrepreneur.com: Can you ever reinforce too much?

Daniels: If you do it wrong, one time is it too much. Ifyou do it correctly, you can never do it too much. If I'm stillplaying golf when I'm 90, I don't think I'll ever gettired of hearing, "Good shot." Because I know thatit's an accomplishment. I can see the shot and I know its goodso it doesn't bother me that someone says "Goodshot." But a lot of people-because they do itwrong-have gotten the idea that you can do it too much.

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