Power of Positive Reinforcement

This is a story about my husband, W.  He’s a quiet, introverted soul, with a wicked sense of humor and a tendency to perfectionism.

3 years ago he was laid off from a job with a company he’d been with for about 10 years.  In his previous job if you asked him if he liked his work he’d shrug and say, “It’s a job.”  In his previous job there was very little feedback from the higher ups.  Very little instruction.  No encouragement to learn new skills.  Very little interaction really.  As a result, my very intelligent spouse often felt like he didn’t know what he was doing.  That he had no marketable skills.  That he was employed not because of the fact that he was skilled, intelligent, good at his job but because at his very first interview 10 years prior he got the initial interview because another employee he happened to know recommended his resume.  None of which was true, but the set up and work environment was such that he received incredibly little reinforcement for what he did other than a regular pay check and a small gift card from his boss around the holidays.

His project ended, the company didn’t have any more in the works, he and loads of others were laid off.

He then 3 years ago got a job doing software quality assurance for another company.  He’d heard mixed reviews about the company on-line, mostly about their pay scale and that they had high turn over because of it, but he felt like he got the job on his own merits and it was an offer that worked for our life and budget so he took it.

In this job he’s encouraged to learn new things, and rewarded when he does.  The management isn’t overbearing but also not completely hands off.  And he randomly gets these nice ‘we appreciate this x,y,z thing that you did.  your input and work is appreciated’ letters, or other acknowledgements.  For example last year at a quarterly meeting of some kind he got this little star shaped trophy thing for acknowledgement from his boss for his work on some part of a project.  He laughs about it, yet there is a reason he didn’t throw it out or bury it in a drawer.

These things make a huge difference.  Seriously, my husband who in his old job never talked about work, talks about work.  Yesterday he was all sheepish smiles when I asked how his day was and he said he got one of those ‘we appreciated your valued input’ letters for some specific input he’d given on a proposed program feature a few weeks back.  He didn’t do anything major, and he wasn’t the only one who had been asked by this particular manager to give input on the proposed feature, and yet the manager (who was manager of a different group than his, so not even one of his direct supervisors) made a point to thank and acknowledge on an individual level those who had given input.

It was a letter.  No money.  No award.  Not even instantaneous.  A letter of acknowledgement and appreciation for his input.  A simple piece of paper (it might even have been an email, I have no idea).  A brief letter, yet one that said exactly what he had done and why it was appreciated.  Not a generic ‘thanks for what you did’ letter, but a pointed specific ‘you have been seen, heard, and we appreciate all that you do’ note.

This and other similar practices at this company, make such a huge difference in how he thinks and feels about this job.   Makes a huge difference about how he acts in this job, he doesn’t spend the day watching the clock, he doesn’t do the bare minimum, he doesn’t drag his feet getting out the door each morning.  Instead he seems to genuinely enjoy his job and what he does.  He’s at a job now where he doesn’t want to leave because he feels like he’s good at what he does.  He feels competent, that he knows how to do this and do it well.  He was good at what he did at his past job too, but because no one ever told him that, never acknowledged it, he always felt like an imposter, that he had no real skills, that anyone could have done what he did (not true at all).

When I think about this in terms of dog training, it simply reminds me of the importance and power of giving input.  Acknowledging hard work, effort, thought.  About the power of feedback and acknowledgement for encouraging people and dogs to enjoy their work, to want to improve, to take risks and try new things.  Showing value and appreciation for the things your dog does both large and small, can make a huge difference in your relationship and the work you both do together.

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My wonderful hubby sitting with his favorite corgi dog snuggled on his lap



0 thoughts on “Power of Positive Reinforcement

    1. Thanks! And it’s really true, I remember when I stepped back from teaching saying to my husband, ‘so I’m going to need you to start to give me a lot more positive feedback now that my students won’t be giving it to me!” lol

  1. There is a saying that people don’t quit jobs; they quit managers. It is so true. You are right, animals could be the same. I have a horse, but many of the training principles mirror those in dog training. The horse/dog does not give up on the task at hand; they give up (act out) on the handler.

  2. You are so right. Acknowledgement means such a lot. Goodness knows we hear about it enough if we don’t do well so it is nice to hear about it when we get it right.

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