Compliment More; Reprimand Less

Alan Loy McGinnis cites an interesting study in his book THE FRIENDSHIP FACTOR (Augsburg, 1979). A second-grade teacher complained that her children were spending too much time standing up and roaming around the room rather than working.

Two psychologists spent several days at the back of the room with stopwatches observing the behavior of the children and the teacher. Every ten seconds they noted how many children were out of their seats. They counted 360 unseated children throughout each 20-minute period. They also noted that the teacher said “Sit down!” seven times during the same period.

The psychologists tried an experiment. They asked the teacher to say “Sit down!” more often. Then they sat back to see what would happen. Now she commanded her students to sit down 27.5 times in an average 20-minute period, and now 540 were noted to be out of their seats during the same average period! Her increased yelling actually made the problem worse. (When she later backed off to her normal number of reprimands, the roaming also declined to the exact same number recorded previously in just two days.)

Then the experimenters tried another tack. They asked the teacher to refrain from yelling “Sit down!” altogether, and to instead quietly compliment those children who were seated and working. The result? Children’s roaming decreased by 33%! They exhibited their best behavior when they were complimented more and reprimanded less.

Eleanor Porter said, “Instead of always harping on a man’s faults, tell him of his virtues. Try to pull him out of his rut of bad habits. Hold up to him his better self, his real self that can dare and do and win out.”

 It works for children and it works for adults. There is immense power in encouragement — power to make a real difference!


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