Pat on the Back or Kick in the Pants
Some people respond well to a pat on the back, others to a kick in the pants.
Mary practically ignores, “The way you handled Bob’s objection was beautiful.” But, she lights up and leans in when you say, “You created unnecessary controversy in yesterday’s meeting.”
When does a kick in the pants work?
Pat on the back:
Inexperience needs more encouragement.
Focus on commitment not progress. Affirmations that focus on progress may cause inexperienced people to ease back. You make them feel satisfied, not fired up.
Encourage greater effort, when inexperience is involved, by praising commitment. “You worked really hard even though you weren’t sure of the results. Way to go!”
“I’m impressed with the way you worked through mistakes to get the job done.”
Energize inexperience by honoring commitment.
Kick in the pants:
Kick experienced teammates in the pants to improve their performance.
I’m an experienced presenter. A pat on the back feels good. But, when someone says, “I can help you with the joke that flopped,” I lean in. I’m not offended. I’m excited.
Encourage the inexperienced; challenge the experienced.
You have to work your butt off to build and sustain positive work environments. But happy talk may deliver sad results.
Happy talk isn’t effective unless it focuses on the right behaviors.
- Reward results.
- Recognize effort.
- Praise behaviors.
- Respect the person.
- Honor commitment. Remember that celebrating progress may diminish motivation.
A kick in the pants offends those who think they’ve arrived but helps those committed to grow. Read, “Mindset,” by Carol Dewick.
Research on the impact of positive and negative feedback.
When is positive feedback least effective?
How can negative feedback be used to motivate?
When I was in my youth my Father’s swift kick in the pant’s brought me to reality that I had crossed the line, and he could do this while walking beside me, amazing! It got my attention,I became motivated like now! His methods encouraged me to grow from an “also ran” to a Leader! Positive feedback is negative when we do not listen, pay attention and absorb what the feedback is saying! Negative feedback motivates because typically it’s a reality statement and tends to bring one down to earth off ones high horse so to speak.
Thanks Tim. I wasn’t thinking of a literal kick. But, when I think of you, I can see that your dad used his talents well. 😉
Seriously, I love how you connect humility to negative feedback. Our response determines if its useful or not. Cheers
Dan, I love this. A friend of mine used to say “stroke your stallions and kick your donkeys”! Good stuff!
Thanks drmatt… Much appreciated.
“Respect, reward, recognize, commitment and praise signify right behavior” is a great statement. Organisations, that believe in right behavior enhance their image. They earn reputation and employees trust. I always believe in feedback that is encouraging in nature. Feedback should motivate people. People should take the feedback in right spirit. It enhances the mutual trust. Organisations, that do not address or overlook intangible dimension of motivation, fail to reach respectable position.
Positive feedback could be least effective when people do not believe it right. People should take as it is. It is important to note that people should not feel inferior while taking feed back. Many times, the way feed back is provided play major role.
Negative feed back can also be motivating in nature when people believe the person. It means source is very important. When people trust their superiors or managers, they tend to accept what they hear from them. Authenticity of source is the significant determinant to turn negative positive motivating.
Thanks Dr. Gupta. You said so many interesting thins. One thing that stands out to me is the idea that the source is very important. What is the relationship between the people. The deeper the relationship the more likely negative feedback will be heard.
This is an advanced class topic, Dan. You really have to know your people. Good stuff. Thanks.
Thanks Steve. “Do you really have to know your people…” Only if you want to lead them! 😉
Dan, some of the best encouragement I ever received was a firm, well placed, kick in the seat of the pants!
Thanks Jimmy. And, your history indicates it worked. Love how you juxtapose encouragement with kick in the pants. 🙂
Nice to know I was not alone!
Dan, another excellent post. This one provoked a response. I have concern that the “kick in the pants” metaphor might be interpreted by some as justification for continued use of the type of aggressive and demeaning behavior associated with the ‘old school’, patriarchal, command and control management style. A style that, in my view, has no place in modern day leadership. We all should know by now that this style creates repressive cultures built around power, fear and intimidation.
With that said, I’m all for “a kick in the pants” if it means delivering feedback in a skillful, honest and respectful ways – e.g using assertive rather than aggressive or passive aggressive language. From my experience, well delivered assertive/corrective feedback is far more powerful, and far more effective, than “taking someone to the woodshed”. Leaders who develop the habit for using this type of no-nonsense-standard-keeping language and behavior will build the kind of honest, trusting and respectful relationships that 21st century organizations desperately need to be productive and vital. So there! 🙂
As for research, if you haven’t already done so check out research on the “Losada Line” and a more recent paper by Frederickson and Losada – Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing. The gist for me – the highest functioning executive teams demonstrate three important characteristics in their meetings: 1) They balance the use of I and we language. 2) They balance the use of advocacy (telling) and inquiry (asking) language. 3) They maintain a minimum ratio of 3:1 between positive and negative language,
Thanks for stirring me up.
Thanks Tom. Your comment excites me. 😉
We definitely see eye to eye on the dangers of an old school kick in the pants. That style is usually just an excuse for leaders who don’t know how to lead or are stuck in ineffective patterns of thinking.
Thanks for adding recent research. I’ve been a huge fan of the 3:1 rule and totally believe it. We constantly talk about problems and negative issues and then wonder why our environment feels black! I’ve started having “what’s working” conversations at the beginning of meetings. They seem to help. Cheers
Tom the pendulum has swung too far in that direction with paralyzed people too afraid of confronting mediocrity in companies, unions and political leaders. Childish mediocrity hides behind that language. Too many people have never experienced a truly adult atmosphere where failure to perform causes death and destruction. I think Dan was illustrating a correct strategy for managing talent but you respond with “concern.” I would fire you for posting that.
Whoa Terrance! I think you may be missing my point all together (though maybe not). I’m in full agreement that many institutions and organizations are filled with people (leaders) “paralyzed by fear and too afraid to confront mediocrity.” We know that paralysis is one of the three natural human responses to fear (fight, flee or freeze), and in the case of the topic we are on, typically an unproductive and damaging one. Another word for this failure to act is complacency. Not a good thing for vital leaders. Leaders must be bold, action takers – got it.
I think where we might disagree is on how we each define a “truly adult atmosphere” within companies and organizations (including families). It seems that your thinking is more in agreement with the literal meaning of Dan’s idiom – “kick em in the pants” and maybe others like: “kick ass and take names”, “shoot first ask questions later”, “spare the rod spoil the child” etc. Is your belief that real leaders must have this sort of powerful and aggressive philosophy at their core in order to straighten things out and make things right? Is that what you believe is representative of a “truly adult atmosphere”? If so I respect your view, but strongly disagree.
I agree that in some (rare) circumstances, where it’s a literal matter of life or death, this aggressive philosophy and accompanying action is totally warranted. “He who hesitates is lost”. I strongly disagree that this type of aggression ought to be used as the default response when leaders experience the effects of the brain chemicals that stimulate the “fight response” – most basically their response to fear and anger.
In my view, leaders who regularly allow themselves to become either paralyzed or overly aggressive when facing anger or fear producing situations are doing themselves and their organizations a grave disservice. True leaders (vital leaders as I call them) on the other hand, use the energy from fear and anger in more mature and rational ways; they have the ability and savvy to develop and draw upon their intellect, technical skills and their social and emotional intelligence to masterfully create “truly adult atmospheres” based upon trust, mutual trust, respect, collaboration, tolerance, work toward a common purpose .. and so on.
Terrance .. if you were a competent, valued and productive member of an organization I was striving to lead I’d get to know you, and do my best to work with you before I’d fire you; but believe me, I would fire you if your attitudes and actions were toxic to the culture my team and I were trying to build.) Respectfully Tom 🙂
Tom you clearly illustrate your incompitent and emotional driven mediocrity by misspelling my name. You’re fired.
Terrence … Oh … Ok … I’m sorry.
Not to mention you didn’t call me out on my misspelling. You’re blacklisted.
Some of my most cherished friendships are those that told me when I was being a jerk or needed to do better. They cared enough to be frank with me and even potentially risk our friendship in order to help me become a better person.
If you can’t think of the last time a friend or coworker did this for you, start asking them for specific criticisms, and not just of tactics or tasks, but of demeanor and attitude.
Thanks James. Those who “hurt” us because they love us are the ones who change us for the better.
Love it Dan! I love the practical examples you shared for approaching feedback in a different way! Thanks again for your insights.
Paul// Leadership Blogger, http://www.paulsohn.org
Thanks Paul. It’s a pleasure to serve.
Dan, I found it eerie to read this blog this morning. Your last few blogs have been very relevant to a situation I am currently working my way through. Thank you for your blog. I appreciate your insight.
Thanks Aimee. Best wishes for the journey!
Feedback is of two kind (i) Positive feedback with negative intention & (ii) negative feedback with positive intention. The second one is a constructive feedback whereas the first one is destructive and discouraging. Constructive feedback brings commitment and passion and also its encourages newcomers to perform well . As a leaders we shall appreciate, encourage, reward and recognize the deserving candidate with positively intended feedback. In organisation where the working culture is weak and filled with prejudiced and bias and where negativity is so strongly prevalent, negative feedback has a strong presence and it further weaken the cultural fabric of the organisation. As a leader it is our responsibility to support, guide and advise the young and dynamic leaders and at the same time we shall also pull the lousy one. A performing organisation always encourages the true, transparent and honest feedback, whereas a non performing organization feel threatened.