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The humanKIND Blog

How Positive Reinforcement Will Improve Toxic Relationships

Toxic relationships suck. In last week's blog, I discussed 3 effective ways to turn relationships from sour to sweet, and shared that addressing it was the first step. Now to sustain it, we need to use positive reinforcement to point out the progress!


Like begets like (positive = more positive)

A few years ago I was coaching two Executives that weren’t hearing or seeing each other as well as anyone would have liked. After numerous coaching sessions 1:1 with me and the three of us together, we were at a place to try practicing what we had discussed. Calling out the positive shifts was a key part of the process, as it honored the work and progress that each of them had made. It accelerated their progress tremendously and can do the same for you!

It may seem hard at first, complimenting the person who is causing you frustration or pain. However, the old adage “kill them with kindness” does have merit. It helps you, them and the company you work for.


Scripts to help you be nice (even when you don't want to be)

You don’t have to get too formal here with thither and thou, but you should call it out. I strongly encourage you to do this in person and practice first. Especially if this has been a relationship full of tension, ensuring that your word choice and don’t come across as snotty or condescending is very important.

A few examples on how to do that in person or in writing:

  • “I’ve noticed that _______ (positive example) has shifted in our work. I think it’s impactful because ___________ and _______. How are you feeling about the shift?”

  • “I’m really enjoying that we can now ______________ (positive example). How can we continue to develop this together?”

  • “I used to look at our partnership and feel ________ (kind, but direct reflection of where it was). Now, I’m feeling _______ (positive example) because of the shifts we’ve made. How are you feeling about our partnership?”

Whatever your verbiage, call it out in a way that’s comfortable and authentic to your voice.


Gather your courage and tell leadership

People who speak positively about other people are looked at positively. People who speak ill, the opposite. That’s not to say you can’t escalate an issue to leadership in fear of looking like a complainer. I want you to feel confident in looking to your leadership for advice and support. There is a difference, however, between asking for advice and gossiping.

So, flip the script and make sure you’re passing along as much positive praise about other people as you can. As always, do this in an authentic way that honors your style. A couple of ways to make it authentic and easy:

  • Be specific. Instead of saying, “Kate did a great job,” say, “Kate really wowed the room with her research and powerful presentation. I can’t wait to hear what the client thinks!”

  • Don’t Overplay It. Your goal should be to compliment people more often than the average person because lets face it, most people are horrible at this. But, you can take it too far if you do it too often or to the same person. Spread the wealth and share the positive vibes!

Need more specific ideas? Click here and here for great ways to encourage and compliment others.


Get moving and stay positive!

If you were or are still in conflict with someone it’s hard to stay positive. I’ve been there. More than once. We’ve shown you that being kind counts, how to do this and the value of spreading the positivity. And if done authentically, what can it hurt?

Let me know how these tips land and work in the real world. Be sure to use the hashtag #werestorehumanity when sharing on social media!

Wishing You Peace and Progress,


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