Why Positive Encouragement Works Better Than Criticism, According to Science
How positivity affects our brains – to start with, let’s look at how positive and negative emotions work in our brains, and what we can learn from that.
Positive emotions generally work in an opposite way to negative emotions. So, while emotions like fear, anxiety, stress and anger narrow our focus, inhibit our concentration and decrease our cognitive abilities, positive emotions can do the opposite. When we’re feeling upbeat and happy, we’re more likely to have an inclusive focus than a self-centered outlook, and to perform better on cognitively demanding tasks.
That is why exercising often makes us happier, especially if we choose to go for a demanding work-out.
In the face of negative events, our brains struggle to perform at their highest—or even normal—capacity. Our prefrontal cortex, the brain’s “executive center” is pushed aside so the amygdala can take over and prepare the body for crisis.
This shift in control to the low road favours automatic habits, as the amygdala draws on knee-jerk responses to save us.
When we’re stressed or scared, for instance, we struggle to think clearly, to coordinate well with others, to take in new information and to come up with new ideas. Even existing routines suffer, as our concentration is taken over by our negative emotions.
The more intense the pressure, the more our performance and thinking will suffer.
Positive encouragement and communication
The way leaders use positivity when communicating with employees can make a huge impact on their emotional well-being and their performance. I was really surprised how big the impact of these interactions can be. Goleman looked at several ways this can happen in Social Intelligence.
In one experiment, the emotional tone of a leader delivering news to an employee made more impact that the news itself. When negative feedback was delivered with a warm tone, the employees usually rated the interaction positively. On the other hand, good news, such as achieving a goal, delivered with a negative tone would leave employees feeling bad.
The emotional state of a leader can rub off on employees even when they’re not sharing feedback specifically. Just being more upbeat can improve the emotional state of your employees, as well as helping them to be more efficient and coordinate better.
Employees are also more likely to remember negative interactions than positive ones, and to spread the negativity among other employees.
When sharing feedback with employees, negatively-focused discussions are more likely to increase feelings of guilt, fear and anxiety.
A conversation that starts with a person’s dreams and hopes can lead to a learning path yielding that vision.
No doubt, we can’t avoid all negative moments. However adding enough positive ones to offset those that trouble us can make us happier and more productive.
Positive leadership – 3 things to focus on
Improving the positive ratio of your own team can be simple. Like making some important changes to your own leadership approaches.
1. The two most important states: Listening and show empathy
Showing empathy to your employees helps them to develop a stable base at work. This is so they can feel comfortable to explore and take risks. This can lead to more creativity and better problem-solving within your team.
2. A caring boss is more important than what you earn
Making your employees feel heard and understood can actually improve their physical health as well as their mental well-being:
Simply listening to your employees helps them to offload their negative feelings and release tension. Carrying around anxiety or frustration can hinder an employee’s performance. Try to tap into how they’re feeling on a regular basis.
3. Make interpersonal chemistry a priority
Our sense of engagement and satisfaction at work results in large part from the hundreds and hundreds of daily interactions we have while there. Whether with a supervisor, colleagues, or customers.
The accumulation and frequency of positive versus negative moments largely determines our satisfaction and ability to perform; a compliment on work well done or a word of support after a setback. All of this add up to how we feel on the job.
How about you, would exchanging criticism for encouragement work better at your workplace, home and even in your friendships?