Dopamine, a neurohormone, is produced in our brain when we experience something enjoyable. A lover’s embrace, tasting chocolate, winning on a slot machine – these all produce dopamine in your brain (if you enjoy these experiences). This is the commonly accepted physiological cause of much addictive behaviour. It is thought that we crave the pleasure high we get when the dopamine hits our brain.
Positive words and good news have been found to activate the dopamine effect, the same as other pleasurable experiences do. In other words, you can give your employees a buzz by offering praise and by being positive. Strong performing teams have been found to experience 5.6 times more positive than negative comments. This is similar to the results of other studies showing that successful marriages have a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interaction.
We all get this intuitively, yet many employees would strongly agree with the statement: “Not only have I not received any praise recently, but my best efforts are routinely ignored.” Alternatively, Gallup finds one of the strongest correlations to high employee engagement is when people can agree with the statement: “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.”
As a leader, I often wonder why it takes a special effort to be positive. Am I just a negative person? In researching this, I was relieved to find out that we all suffer from a “negativity bias”. This is thought to stem from the fact that in our distant past, failing to see something dangerous (negative) could be deadly, whereas failing to notice something pleasurable (positive) is just disappointing. Basically, we are all wired to see the bad much easier than the good. Seeing the good, therefore, takes a bit of effort.
Before you run out and start randomly praising your team and being super positive, though, here are a few key things to consider:
Be very careful with public praise
Public praise can backfire. Praising one person over others in public can cause jealousy. Someone might think, “I did something just as good and he didn’t even notice.” Public praise should be reserved for praising the entire team.
Most praise is best done in private and in an appropriate style for the person
One-on-one time is the best time to offer meaningful feedback and praise. It eliminates the potential for jealousy and it allows you to adapt to the person.
Some people are super sensitive even to the point of thinking you are insincere when you are not! You will understand over time that you’d better have a very specific example for some people of what they did great, or you will do more harm than good. Some people want more constant praise for smaller things and thrive on it; others will find this demeaning and insincere. You need to really take the time to understand this about each of your team members.
Stay positive and look for the bright side
Great leaders don’t dwell on mistakes; they see the good and the bright side in situations and point it out to the group with words, attitude, and body language. This does not mean they ignore harsh realities. It simply means that they refuse to go negative and dwell on what can’t be changed. They look forward to what can be done next and get people focused on positive action.
Being positive and offering appropriate praise does sound easy and it is absolutely free. Is it actually easy? Not necessarily. But the rewards, both in terms of the performance of your team and your own personal well-being, are well worth the effort.