The PLACES Principle


PLACES is the neuroscience-based principle that WeQ uses to keep teams in the reward state

P. Positivity – Give more praise than criticism to your teammates.

Positive feedback stimulates nurturing emotions, significantly increasing bonding, trust and creativity. Positivity makes relationship more resilient, allowing a group to handle criticism in a constructive way.

The ideal compliment to criticism ratio (J. Zenger & J, Folkman, 2013)

Updated Thinking on Positivity Ratios (Barbara L. Fredrickson, 2013)

L. Labeling – Articulate your thoughts and feelings by choosing suitable descriptions.

The behavior of individuals is influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them. So putting feelings into words (affect labeling) helps teams manage negative emotions. Scientists have shown that affect labeling diminished the response of the amygdala while increasing activity in prefrontal cortex.

Putting Feelings Into Words (Lieberman et. al, 2007)

What makes elite athletes thrive or dive under pressure?  (2019, The Economist)

A. Autonomy – You have choices guiding your feedback experience. You’re in charge!

Autonomy is about having choices and encouraging a sense of personal responsibility. Researchers have measured the importance of our ability to make decisions for ourselves. In contrast, a perception of reduced autonomy (e.g. being micromanaged) can easily generate a ‘threat response’. When employees experience a lack of control, their perception of uncertainty is aroused, which raise stress levels. By contrast, the perception of greater autonomy increases the feeling of certainty and reduces stress.

C. Connection – Be present, be aware of your gestures, make eye contact.

Your mental health and your success are tied to your colleagues, so you should show your compassion towards them. There are several physical components to in authentic, quality connections; eye contact, head nod, smile and open gestures. These behaviours signal kindness and respect.

Researchers found that subjects who maintain eye contact showed enhanced neural synchronization with one another in a region associated with social communication and empathy. (NeuroImage, Koike et al, 2016)

Dacher Keltner suggests we can instinctively detect whether a stranger is inclined to kindness

Claim: A Fake Smile Can be Bad for Your Health (New York Times, 2011)

E. Equality – Take turns during a conversation. Participants should neither shy away, nor dominate a discussion.

Several neuroeconomic studies have found that brain is hard-wired for equality. When it comes to team effectiveness, an effective, high performance team maintains an equal turn-taking in a conversation.  

Researchers gave money either to a study participant or to someone else, observing the participant’s brain response. Brain activity in the areas associated with rewards increased more when participants believed money transfers were promoting equality than when they believed transfers were promoting inequality.

S. Safety – Speak up wild ideas, ask for help, challenge assumptions, and don’t discourage others from doing the same.

When brain detects a danger, it activates ‘threat’ circuit, where it prepares to either attack or retreat (‘fight or flight’ response). A high performing team feels safe to take interpersonal risks. They are less concerned about being embarrassed when sharing sily ideas, and feel free to ask questions that might destabilize the group’s assumption.

In a landmark study, Google determined that a high level of psychological safety is the prominent factor that sets aside high performing teams from the rest.

Download the PLACES Poster

PLACES - neuroscience principle keeping teams in the reward state

Put this poster up during a WeQ Session. You may leave it behind after the session,

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Top performing teams give each other more than six positive feedback for every criticism. Compliments boost team performance. Why?

The ideal compliment to criticism ratio (J. Zenger & J, Folkman, 2013)

Updated Thinking on Positivity Ratios (Barbara L. Fredrickson, 2013)

Neuroscience for accepting criticism: How to take the bad with good?

How happy brains respond to negative things (S. Allen & J. A. Smith, 2016)

How to love criticism. The feedback culture at Bridgewater. Podcast by Adam Grant  

AG: There's evidence to back this up. It's something I heard a lot at Bridgewater, too. It's easier to take criticism when you know it's meant to help you. From the outside, it might sound harsh. But they think it's good for them.

KS: If you know that it's healthy, and you've experienced firsthand the benefit, you're going to keep seeking it, just like, it still hurts sometimes to go running, but I know how important that is to my well-being, so I'll keep doing it, even though it's always kind of an effort to get myself out the door. I think it's the same with criticism.

Why getting criticism is so difficult?   

Mothers’ criticism touches “brain scars” (The Harvard Gazette, 2009)

Humans feel good with the compliment (even if it is generated by computer) Why?

Silicon sycophants: the effects of computers that flatter B. J. FOGG AND CLIFFORD NASS (1997)  

Positive emotions open our mind, talk by Barbara Fredrickson

How to maintain optimal brain state in a team to perform at peak?  

How the brain seeks pleasure and avoids pain. (MIT Technology Review, 2017)  

Friederike Fabritius explains the brain’s threat and reward circuits for achieving high performance (watch it from 12:00)

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