You can’t punish people into learning

British corporate change expert David Bovis wrote in a discussion on LinkedIn, “Neurologically / psychologically, we are ‘designed’ to learn from mistakes, and we learn quicker from environments that provide positive reinforcement, forgiveness & understanding following mistakes.”  He goes on to give the (wonderfully vivid) example of how we encourage babies learning to walk. No one ever says, “You little idiot, you’ll never walk.  Why even try again?”  And yet our feedback and evaluation systems tend to focus on what we’ve done wrong, in a punitive way.

That reminds me of Marshall Goldsmith‘s wonderful Feedforwardexercise, which we’ve used with a number of different groups:  clients, our religious community, and even just between Dan and me.  Instead of focusing on the past (which we can’t change, anyway), feedforward encourages us to consider ways that we can do better as we move ahead.

If you haven’t tried it, I urge you to check it out.  Marshall’s clever format helps stop our usual resistant brain-chatter and opens us up to true listening and real possibility.  People report feeling truly cared for after the exercise and tend to come away with a few good ideas for improving their lives.  One baby step at a time.

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