Monday December 6, 2010
Operations Director, Jon Reed explores the concept of positive strokes and their impact on culture and teams.
Driving along country roads last week, I quickly became incensed by the attitude of a fellow driver who rather than show gratitude as I’d pulled over to let him pass (forgoing my right of way), rewarded me with a squeal of wheels and a splattering of mud. I’d switched into my ‘reptile brain’ whereby the primeval ‘flight or fight’ response kicks in and all rational thought is lost.
Then a mile down the road I calmed down, emotional intelligence regained its grasp and I realised I was feeling quite unnecessarily angry. After all ‘right of way’ only exists if in the eyes of both drivers...
On reflection I felt cheated that my good deed went unrecognised and there was no ‘thank you’ nod and this made me think about the concept of ‘positive strokes’ (or ‘units of human recognition’ as referred to in transactional analysis). The simple notion of saying “hello” or smiling is a positive stroke and there is an inherent human need to seek positive strokes. Clearly this applies to some more than others (evidently I need more than the other driver was willing to grant me).
The concept of positive strokes is generally underpinned with the belief that you reap what you sow, so the more positive strokes you pass on, the more you’ll encourage others to do the same (hopefully back your way) and the more you’ll enjoy your surroundings. Does that make the bearer of positive strokes selfish? Philosopher and entrepreneur Jim Rohn comments: ‘Self congratulation is a sign of maturity. Seeking congratulation is a sign of immaturity’.
In the context of organisational performance and culture, it costs nothing to give praise to colleagues, team, peers, customers, suppliers (and to create the positive stroke effect). However, through working with organisations to improve their employee engagement and performance, I’ve observed that praise/recognition from middle management and the leadership team is often an area that leaves much to be desired.
You’ll have read in the news over the past week that as the result of a new government initiative, ‘happiness’ is set to become the preferred indicator of national progress. Interest in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) will be overshadowed by interest in GWB (General Well Being) and quality of life. ‘Positive stroking’ must surely impact happy scales both in and outside work.
I know for sure that in my past life as I moved up the ladder of a corporate organisation that with every advancement came less recognition and therefore less incentive to pass on the positive stroke effect to others.
One of my favourite mantras has always been ‘behaviour breeds behaviour’ and whether you are a team of one or a CEO leading 100,000 people, passing on positive strokes is an important vehicle for improving culture. The great news is that by nature, a bit of ‘stroking’ can become endemic.
Ask yourself how many people have you thanked today? What kind of impact could a well constructed, well timed and well framed mention of appreciation have on you, the receiver and the team?
It might be a good time to review how your organisation can thrive on more positive strokes...