Challenging beliefs – #6: Positive reinforcement does not work on people

Bad parents and bad managers have a lot in common. Or perhaps it is just a ‘bad people’ thing. They don’t listen. They think they know everything best. They believe they can do anything to you because you’re their child or because they pay you. And they think scare tactics work best. And unfortunately, it seems that people without any training or qualification on how to be a good parent or manager can just go and do ‘the job’. No wonder over 25% of adults have faced some form of childhood abuse and the main reason employees leave their job is because of bad relationships with their manager.

One issue is negative/positive reinforcement. While positive parenting and positive reinforcement are new trends, it seems to be that many parents and managers still believe the negative reinforcement will lead to better results. For children, using punishment, children only learn to fear the parent but it does not necessarily stop them from wanting to do the undesired behaviour. For employees, using punishment when positive reinforcement would be more effective can damage morale and hurt productivity. I think I am living proof that negative reinforcement only has negative effects and exacerbates the overall situation – as a child my parents used negative reinforcement and both physically and psychologically abusive methods of discipline and punishment and it only led to me being more stubborn (I have a strong sense of what is just) and me not respecting them. Naturally, our the relationship with my parents is not strong or even really existent. At work, once people try to threaten me or my colleagues by swearing, cursing, calling names and/or screaming (yes, I have experienced a couple of ‘crazy’ bosses in my various places of work), I lose all respect just the same and of course morale will go down. Respect, dedication and loyalty is to be earned. It is not a given and it surely cannot be enforced by negative measures. Parents, managers and even dog-owners often forget this.

Here are five reasons why positive reinforcement works better than punishment:

  1. Negative reinforcement only makes a person feel miserable, and damages the bond between you and the other person. Positive reinforcement increases a person’s sense of worth, and improves or maintains the bond between you and the other.
  2. Negative reinforcement may not stop a person from wanting to do or doing the undesired behaviour – they will just hide it from you. As positive reinforcement rewards good behaviour, there is a higher chance that this desired behaviour will occur more often in the future.
  3. Negative reinforcement leads to a negative home/office environment while positive reinforcement leads to better morale in the workplace/a happier home.
  4. Children/employees who are rewarded become more eager to learn and develop.
  5. Creativity is encouraged through positive reinforcement, while it is stifled through negative reinforcement.

Next time a child or employee is behaving badly, instead of thinking how to punish, think about how your behaviour may have to do with this and how positive reinforcement may be able to change this.


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