This article examines the benefits of taking a positive approach to situations as opposed to focusing on the negative and the resultant improvement that it can bring about.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Business studies, careers

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What are the benefits to employing positive reinforcement?
  • How do I develop this perspective?
  • How do I make my positive comments meaningful?

New Terminology:

Positive organizational leadership

Materials Needed:

Copies of the article for the students

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

The dilemma of whether to use positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement (or the degree to which you utilize both) has existed ever since humans starting interacting. There are those who believe that fear of punishment and the imposition of negative consequences is the best way to spur people on to their best effort. Others believe that encouraging and reinforcing positive behaviours brings about the best results. Although both approaches can be employed one or the other must be a preferred, dominant approach – your “go to” inclination if you will. Essentially, it depends upon your view of people. Are they essentially self-serving and inclined to take the path of least resistance, or are they eager to succeed and put forth their best efforts, sometimes at the cost of personal sacrifice? Perhaps both types exist but the essence of your initial actions basically rests upon how you view people.

This lesson will have the students examine these two opposing approaches, examine the benefits and consequences of each, and decide what their preferred stance is.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Begin the lesson by asking the students to define positive reinforcement and negative consequences
  • With these working definitions established, ask them if they are motivated more by praise or fear.
  • Get their responses and have them indicate how each serves as a motivator.
  • Divide the class into an equal number of groups and assign positive reinforcement to half of the groups and negative reinforcement to the other half.
  • Give them the following scenario and ask them to outline the various actions and strategies to address the problems that would be used by a manager who uses their assigned approach.
  • Provide them with the following scenario:

You are manager of a six-person sales team. Sales have fallen below targets and senior management has called you to task for the results. They have indicated that unless things improve dramatically, they may have to look for new leadership in your department. Two of your sales staff are young and somewhat inexperienced – a male of 25 who is glib and full of perhaps unjustified confidence and a young woman of 26, recently engaged, somewhat more insecure but hard working. The other four are veteran sales people, each with a different style but normally effective in producing sales, although less successful this time around. Two are looking for advancement and the other two are content in their current positions.

  • Allow the groups time to prepare what remedial actions they would take given that their job is on the line.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Have the groups report the actions they would take, explaining the reasons and desired results.
  • Have the groups respond to any questions or comments once their report has been completed.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

The students will be able to:

  • Explain the terms positive reinforcement and negative consequences and outline the difference in the two approaches.
  • State their preferred approach to dealing with people.

Confirming Activity:

  • Once the reports have been completed, hold a plenary session to see if there is a preferred approach in the class and the reasons for that preference.