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Clients often ask us to define the desired balance between positive and negative consequences when shaping or sustaining behavior. Research on the words we use supports using a minimum ratio or four positive comments to one negative comment (a 4:1 ratio), but there is more to it than that.
When looking for specific behavior change, the tendency is to provide feedback on behavior that we don’t want versus focusing and reinforcing behavior we do want. The 4:1 ratio should be used as a guide to ensure enough positive reinforcement is being delivered to get the behavior you want. The more you can find and reinforce behavior that you want, the more you will get what you want and need in supporting behaviors in yourself and others that lead to good outcomes.
Making specific and positive comments to others about their performance is considered reinforcement only if those behaviors occur more often in the future. Using the 4:1 Ratio tool helps you become more reinforcing by looking at what others are striving to do right and attending in specific ways to those actions. If you need help becoming more reinforcing to those around you, this tool can help you figure out how to move away from a neutral (never commenting) or negative (always catching errors) approach to a more balanced and increasingly reinforcing approach. Those who have established themselves as reinforcers to others understand that positive reinforcement should well exceed a four to one ratio, leading to the development of positive habits over time.
(R+ is a registered trademark of Aubrey Daniels International that represents the term positive reinforcement.)
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