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Are You Rewarding the Behavior You Really Want?


As a musician, I know when I play a piece of music people like, they clap. That makes us musicians feel good. In fact, it makes us want to play more music. Another way to look at it is

Behavior that’s rewarded is repeated.

As managers, we need to use our motivational tools with great skill. Unfortunately, once in awhile, with certain personalities, we unwittingly start rewarding behavior we really don’t want repeated.

The Dreaded Visit from Sally

You’re managing a busy office. There are lots of people in your office that you look forward to seeing. Then, there’s……..Sally. She’s the person who corners you in your office with a complaint. In fact, it’s always a complaint! (You start wondering how she can keep thinking up new ones…) It doesn’t take long until you dread seeing Sally. You even make excuses not to talk to Sally. But, Sally is tenacious. She catches you when you’re not looking–and tosses another monkey for you to catch, nurture, feed, and keep forever (you remember the ‘monkey on your back’, don’t you?) At this point, you have a choice to make:
1. Give Sally the attention she wants for her complaint–reward the behavior
2. Change the game to one of positive reinforcement for the behaviors you want from Sally

Giving it Back to Sally–Differently

Instead of always reacting to Sally’s complaint (she can really come up with doozies, can’t she…), take a different tack. Get on the ‘offensive’. Invite Sally to lunch, or to coffee–anything to get her out of her attack mode and frame of reference. Explain you want an opportunity to get to know her better.

Changing Frames of Reference Can Get Behavioral Changes

Your job is to start providing rewards for the behaviors you want, instead of rewarding the behaviors Sally is exhibiting naturally. Sally has learned to create uproar, controversy, and to get attention through her negativity. Changing the ‘view’ and the behavior-reward process will provide you an opportunity to create a much better relationship with Sally–to the point where you will actually look forward to her visits!


  1. Hey, great post, very well written. You should post more about this.

  2. I think I will try to recommend this post to my friends and family, cuz it’s really helpful.

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