To help people understand what behavior is desirable, use positive reinforcement. Behavior that is reinforced is likely to occur again. Don’t be stingy with positive reinforcement - the more the better.
Offender treatment research indicates that, at a minimum, clients should receive at least four positive reinforcements for each punishment.
Why does the behavioral change process require so many more positive interactions to every negative? It is not so much that positive feedback matters more; it appears that negative feedback just weighs more. We remember failure more accurately. We obsess about tasks that we failed to complete.
Punishment announces, “Don’t do that.”
Positive reinforcement announces, “Do that again.”
The difference in the amount of information communicated is vast. While both concepts are important during the change process, informing clients what they should be saying “no” to can sometimes lead to anger and confusion. More than that, clients want the full detail of the infraction and will challenge you if they feel unfairly knocked. See Accountability for more on getting structured and predictable consequences right.
When a person is praised or rewarded for a given behavior, there is no confusion. It is clear that the rewarded behavior is what should be repeated. Positive reinforcement should be specific, behavior-focused and swift, but unpredictable. Yes, unpredictable – take care in not creating an overly standardized method for handing out positive reinforcements as they can lose their value when clients come to expect them.
We've developed our technology to support and encourage making positive reinforcements part of any agency’s frontline staff’s daily function. More than that, our technology enables you to calculate your positive to negative ratio and see which staff members are getting the hang of writing up positives alongside their incident write-ups. Click on our software icons below to see how we've implemented reinforcement in our software.