One of the most eye opening moments of my career as an administrator was when a nursing assistant said to me, “Denise, all you do is see the negative.”
The positive, happy-go-lucky one who loved to ask people how their kids were, and genuinely cared about the answer?
Who stopped to answer call lights and help any resident that needed it?
If a resident looked extra spiffy I’d ask who was the person who helped them so I could thank them for a job well done.
If the area looked neat and tidy I’d praise the team.
I made it a point to compliment people when things were going right.
Or, so I thought.
My staff apparently had a different perception of what happened when I walked around.
I am grateful that the nursing assistant had the guts to tell me that day. It took me by surprise for sure and I distinctly remember saying to her in utter shock, “Me?”
She then went on to tell me how I would point out all the things that were wrong when I came for a visit to her area.
In my mind I was highlighting the times that I pointed out the positive things. Didn’t I just say thank you to Stacey for doing such a great job with Mrs. Paul’s makeup?
The problem was that the one compliment that I was putting on a pedestal had been drowned out by the many negative messages I was sending.
I didn’t think of them as negative. I was merely sharing what needed to be fixed. I was calm and kind in my words of correction.
But it didn’t matter. What mattered was that people looked to me for praise and approval.
I was bringing them down.
With my constant corrections, no matter how cheerfully delivered, I was draining the pride from the people I should have been building up.
That one comment from the nursing assistant—“all you see is the negative”—set me on a course correction. I made a real effort to point out what was going right.
I forced myself to dial down the negative observations and turn up the positive ones.
I fought the urge to think of the negative messages as “constructive” or “helpful.” That was just white washing my feedback and spinning my disapproval.
I had to rid myself of the long-held belief that it was my duty as administrator to correct, that somehow my job had to involve belittling people for their very well intentioned efforts.
It was not easy and I can’t say that I was perfect at it.
THE ANGEL AND THE DEVIL
In the presentations that I do for groups these days on employee engagement, I often describe the feeling of having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.
My angel would be whispering, “Don’t say anything about what needs to get fixed; it’s not a big deal. Focus on the positive.” The devil would be whispering, “You need to say something. It’s your job, and these people are getting paid to do their job the correct way.”
It didn’t always come naturally for me. Some days it was a huge effort, but one that was worth it.
WHAT TO DO AND SAY
Wondering what works best when you do have to correct something? I’ll cover that topic in my next blog.
Meanwhile, if you want to harness the power of positive feedback keep in mind some of these tips:
- General praise, like saying “good job,” is nice. Specific feedback, that lets them know how they made a difference, is way better.
- Be on the constant lookout for behavior that you want repeated. When you see it, give immediate feedback.
- Use a simple trigger to remind you to give more affirming feedback. Some people suggest putting a few coins or paperclips in your left pocket for this. Every time you give positive feedback move a coin to the right pocket. No pockets? Try moving a bracelet back and forth from arm to arm. Silly? Very! A great way to remember? Yes!
Struggling with what to say when giving positive feedback? Try one of these lead ins:
- When you help your coworkers….
- When you communicate information about a resident….
- When you come to work on time…
Try focusing positive feedback on areas that an employee has improved and end any of the above with a “Thanks for that!”
Obviously, you don’t need to comment every single time a person is on time for work. That would be insulting for many and seen as disingenuous.
But you may want to give feedback at review time, using something like: “Diane, I’ve been very impressed…I don’t mention it every time, but I want you to know that it has not gone unnoticed. It’s important to me and I appreciate it.”
In addition to more engaged employees, you are creating a culture in which people will start focusing more on the positive.