People have often wondered how I started off in health care and then somehow made the switch to employee recognition training and consulting.
It all began when I started my master’s degree program at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, to become a speech-language pathologist.
Besides the in-class coursework with lectures, readings, and exams, we also started our exposure to therapy through watching clinicians in action. The therapy room had the typical one–way mirror, that appears reflective on the one side where they conducted therapy and transparent on the other side in the observation room. You are probably more familiar with these mirrors if you watch any police procedural TV shows where detectives are interviewing the suspect, and someone is watching on the other side.
Like every other graduate student, I watched clinicians provide therapeutic treatment to adults and children with speech and language disorders.
It was during these sessions that I saw a recurring behavior that my undergraduate understanding of psychology balked at. Each clinician I saw working with children or adults alike used the same communication following the successful performance of a target speech or language behavior. Every one of them said the same words of, “good job!”
I tried putting myself in the mind of a 4- or 5-year-old and receiving articulation therapy. Then I imagined hearing the words, “good job!’ after correctly saying the word “cat” following the therapist, showing me a picture of one.
A young child could think, something I just did must be good, and I assume it was saying “cat.” And I do not know what a “job” is that she said.
An adult would have almost the same reaction.
That’s when I realized that the feedback response you give people means almost as much as the therapy method itself.
Later on, when I was doing my adult practicum at what was then the Detroit Rehabilitation Center, I researched and practiced the best ways of giving therapeutic feedback to patients with communication disorders.
I learned that when someone has a serious communication disorder following a stoke or acquired brain injury, whether a closed or open head injury, their image of themselves was destroyed.
When a person can no longer communicate properly, their self-esteem, self-worth, and identity are ten notches lower than they were before their loss. So, when you say, “good job!” to a person who struggled to say a consonant plus a vowel sound, they don’t feel good about themselves. The words you say mean nothing to them, and the genuine effort they put into saying things does not feel recognized.
Some clinicians might have progressed from “good job!” to giving more specific feedback like, “You did a great job producing that puh uh sound.” However, the same problem still occurs with not validating them.
Here’s why. Remember, the low self-esteem from their disability. As soon as you say the pronoun “you”, they don’t believe in themselves as they once did. So, they negate any wording using a “you” statement in it.
The research suggests that you have to use “I” pronoun statements. If the individual has a positive relationship with the feedback, then the recognition giver could say, “I liked the way you produced that puh uh sound. I could tell you put a lot of effort into doing that.”
By using first-person pronouns, the individual receiving recognition or feedback has an internal dialogue to deal with.
“I trust John/Mary, who is my therapist.”
“They wouldn’t say anything that wasn’t true.”
“I feel I can believe what they are saying.”
“I must have said the sound correctly after all.”
With patients who had a hard time in communicating, I might further validate their worth and positive behaviors by adding something after my “I Talk” feedback. I would ask, who did that? Each time they would say “I did!” or point to themselves. Then I knew they had broken through the negative self-talk in their heads.
Recognition In The Workplace
Years later, as I dealt with employee recognition in the workplace, I found another way to help people eliminate “good job” expressions from their repertoire.
I have referenced this many times in my posts and books. I coined the term the Two-Part Specificity Rule™ with its helpful principles for giving meaningful recognition.
The first part of giving specific recognition is the specifically express appreciation or acknowledge the Action or behaviors performed by a person.
Then the second part of being specific is to identify the Impact that person’s actions or behaviors had on you, a fellow employee, a customer, or the organization.
Think: ACTION + IMPACT
ACTION = “Chris, I want to thank you for how you helped John resolve the software problem he was having this morning.”
IMPACT = “It helped him better prepare for the upcoming client meeting and your teammates have told me the difference your help made to everyone.”
Combine the two and you’ll get a recognition expression like this:
“Chris, I want to thank you for how you helped John resolve the software problem he was having this morning. It helped him better prepare for the upcoming client meeting and your teammates have told me the difference your help made to everyone.”
Notice the first-person singular pronoun to add greater motivation. That is 14-seconds of wonderfully spoken recognition that will resonate with anyone.
Listen up to the different expressions of recognition you hear people attempt to say or write. Now, consider how you felt about the recognition. Was it meaningful and effective? Did it make you respond positively or not?
- Keep in mind using first-person pronoun sentences when expressing recognition to people. That way, you can ensure you are always building people up.
- Work on eliminating “good job” as recognition. Instead, combine specific statements describing a person’s positive Action plus the Impact, or the difference they have made on others.
Recognition Reflection: Have you examined in your background where your recognition expressions might have come from to see if there are things you need to change?
Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.