We do it to our children. We do it to our spouses or partners. We do it to our co-workers, our team members, and the guy in the office who we can’t wait to take down a notch. Usually, there’s not malice behind it; it’s an honest attempt to correct a mistake to avoid bigger consequences. Sometimes, there’s a little bit of glee behind it, hopefully reserved for that guy in the office we want to see eat some humble pie. Regardless of the intentions behind it, we are experts at catching people doing things wrong.
Like everything else, it’s about perspective and intention. Stop and think about it. When you see someone doing something wrong, your instinct is likely to stop them. This is especially true if that “something” is dangerous or harmful. But often in an organization, it’s not dangerous or harmful to someone’s safety; but maybe to their job, advancement, or being able to get a job done in a timely fashion. The instinct to reach out to another human being to help them see something they can not is not what we’re talking about. That instinct is important and good.
It’s all in the how. How do we reach out and stop them? Do we call them out in a meeting, in front of other colleagues? Do we approach them alarmed, angry, or firing off instructions? How many questions do we ask? And not all questions are equal. The “What were you thinking?!” or “How could you have done that?!” questions are clearly different from the “Can you walk me through your thought process?” or “Can you help me understand your thinking on this one?” kind of questions.
In their book How Full is Your Bucket?, Tom Rath and Donald Clifton discuss the concept of how we hurt not only the people we are taking from, but also ourselves when we engage in this type of behavior. Not only can this be damaging to the individuals involved, but it takes a toll on morale in organizations, and over time, can be very damaging.
What would it look like to shift to a mindset of catching people doing things right? When everything is humming along and going well, we tend not to mention it, or at least not in the same way. When we do notice things going well, the norm that we’ve observed in our client organizations is the “atta boy” strategy (which really involves no strategy or thought). “Hey, great job on that report!”, or “Nice meeting today!”. Or even “Thanks for getting that to me on time!”. None of these do anything for the recipient in terms of making them feel like you’re investing in them.
Instead, we’d like to offer another slightly more intentional technique. Instead of just highlighting the good thing you’ve noticed, go deeper. What character trait is that person displaying when they are getting the report done or running a meeting well? Maybe it turns into, “Hey, I want you to know how much I appreciate your courage in meetings. You really know how to keep things on track without making anyone feel like you’re cutting them off. Thank you for that!” That probably feels a lot more meaningful to the recipient than, “Nice meeting today!”
Just like with everything else, it’s the little things. In this case, the little things we can do to catch people doing things right can lead to lots of great things—stronger relationships, both at home and at work; filling up our own “buckets” by filling someone else’s; and overall, just greater employee engagement. Try it. And let us know how it goes.