Mon. Sep 24th, 2018

Positive Reinforcement

I was warned numerous times on Saturday to use lots of sunscreen. Transparency has a better tan than me. I’m in the Bahamas this week on my honeymoon with the lovely Christina after getting married a few nights ago in St. Louis. I’ll never have a great tan like actor George Hamilton or be orange like A-Rod in that one interview with Peter Gammons. My goal is to simply avoid being lobster red by Wednesday afternoon.

It’s funny, we typically don’t have many how-did-I-get-here thoughts in life about something great that happens. It’s normally about something bad. “Good Lord, I just watched my business partner and former chemistry teacher kill two people because we make meth. How did it get here?” It’s rare, but I’ve had a few thoughts about how Christina and I got to this happy point in our lives together.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a perfectionist. A perfectionist constantly sees the things that aren’t perfect with themselves and other people. If you fixate on the things that aren’t perfect with yourself, you’ll be miserable. If you point out the things that aren’t perfect about someone else often enough, that’ll want to hit you in the forehead with a shovel.

I hope Christina’s eBay search history doesn’t reveal anything about her being in the market for a new shovel. There were two main things that I wasn’t doing good enough with her though — avoiding nitpicking, and providing positive reinforcement. These two categories compliment each other like peanut butter and jelly. Pointing out flaws is dangerous. Pointing out flaws without giving positive reinforcement is like juggling lava.

The way I was treating Christina resembled a UConn women’s basketball score. Nitpicking was UConn’s score, and positive reinforcement was the other team’s total. I wasn’t doing everything wrong, but there was way too much criticism and not enough positivity. It’s one thing to recognize a flaw, but it doesn’t do a bit of good if the flaw isn’t corrected. DeShone Kizer knows he should stop throwing the ball to the other team. He’ll be updating his resume if he doesn’t correct it.

It works the same way in sports radio. If a host is pointing out the bad things with co-workers while mostly overlooking the good, there’s a strong chance things will fall apart. Same idea with a program director. Same thing with an operations manager, GM, or market manager. You get the idea. Positive reinforcement works. Nitpicking your staff to death doesn’t.

Greg Bergman was one of my producers at FOX Sports Radio. He now produces Mason and Ireland on ESPNLA 710. Anytime Greg talked to me about my show or sent an email critique, it always included something positive. It was about a take I laid out that he really liked. It was about a tease that worked well. Something good was always highlighted before anything critical was ever mentioned. It was a very effective approach.

I also worked at FOX with Nick Wright. He’s a technical producer that currently works a different shift than me. Back when I was doing a Sunday night show with Brady Quinn, Nick messed up a couple of times one night by playing the wrong sound bites. He felt awful. He apologized in person and later over text. I responded and said that I was proud to work on the same show with him. It was easy to tell that a simple comment like that meant a lot. Positivity typically does.

I ate lunch with my uncle Doug in Nashville a few weeks ago. He was telling me about the comments a neuroscientist named Antonio Damasio made. Damasio pointed out that human beings are “feeling machines that think” not “thinking machines that feel.” He said 95% of the time it’s our feelings that decide for us. We feel before we think and act. We tally the pros and cons of our upcoming choices, then make a call based on how we feel. It happens in a nanosecond and we don’t catch ourselves doing it.

There is a lot of truth to what Damasio said. We can’t expect people to feel good about themselves or feel good toward us if we criticize more than compliment them. Sure, constructive criticism can be helpful at times, but negative comments can’t exceed positive feedback. It only causes lower self-esteem and shovels to be purchased when that’s the case.

In NFL Network’s “America’s Game: 1983 Los Angeles Raiders,” Howie Long talked about his mentality as a player. “I could be a guy who would have three, four sacks in a game and I would lay in bed and think about the one play that I got hooked on a sweep my way.” That’s how most people are when it comes to the things we say. The one comment that was negative in nature might stand out more than the 10 compliments we gave.

There are times where I’ll wonder to myself, “Have I even given Christina a compliment today?” That question should be answered by time breakfast is over each day. It also applies to many other situations in life, especially work. When was the last time you praised your producer for the guest list instead of complaining about who wasn’t on it? How often have you pointed out what your staff has done well instead of harping on the things that are lacking?

My sister reminded me of a saying recently — the grass is greener where you water it most. Instead of picturing a better situation elsewhere, wouldn’t it make more sense to maximize what you have? Positive reinforcement is the water that people need to grow. Mass criticism is a drought. Always find ways to provide enough water for the people you love and work with. It’s crucial that positivity leaves the greatest impression.

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