There are quite a few methods you can use, covertly, encourage and shape the behaviour of the people around you. These methods work wonders.

And, you can take the ideas behind the methods too far. When you do, not only is the effect reduced, but it achieves the opposite!

Several years ago, a friend of mine had just started a new relationship. She was telling me about how every time she met this new man, he would do something ‘spontaneous’. He’d arrive at her work with a bunch of flowers, leave notes in her car and around her apartment, and send her random SMS messages. She really enjoyed the attention.

Everything was going well for about two weeks, until one day, she’s waiting for him to come pick her up from work. He’d done it every day for the past two weeks, and she had grown accustomed to it. After waiting for an hour, she gets in a cab and races around to his place, expecting to find him in the arms of another woman.

Sure enough, when she gets there she finds him on the couch in his boxer shorts with his attention fully focused on the xbox.

Apparently at seeing this she starts screaming at him. Can you imagine it?

Jane had become accustomed to these little rewards, so accustomed that they became expected, and as soon as one was missed, she felt that something she was entitled to had been withheld and damaged the relationship.

This works the same in a company. If you’re doing a good job, and your boss gives you a bonus, research shows that chances are you’ll do a less good job next time. Especially if the bonus you expect next time doesn’t arrive or the bonus you do get isn’t as much as you expected.

This is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Most of us like to work for the work itself (intrinsic). Very few people I know work just for the money (extrinsic). So if the work is interesting in itself, we might forgo an increased salary in another company because we already know its not just about the money.

If you want to give rewards for good behaviour, how do you give rewards in such a way as to not have them expecting it every time? One of the easiest ways is to vary the times you give the reward, and sometimes even the size of the reward itself. So one week you might reward with a compliment, another time reward with buying lunch.

Another aspect to rewards methods I’ve experimented with is to keep them out of conscious awareness and as such tend to enhance intrinsic rewards rather then encourage extrinsic rewards, but more on that elsewhere.

What are your favourite rewards? Add them into the comments below.