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Everyone Likes a Bit of Slap & Tickle!


My team were horrified last week when I explained my latest management technique to them… ‘Slap & Tickle’.

When I suggested posting it on the website they all cringed! But sometimes it’s something that repeatedly makes you smile that has the greatest impact in helping you alter your behaviour.

During a coaching session with a client recently, I just came out with the ‘Slap & Tickle Theory’. My client is a busy MD of an SME with around 300 people. They have been badly hit by the recession and it’s been a long hard battle to date, with still more battles ahead. My client is truly battle weary and was reflecting on his recent behaviour with his people. He explained that he is tired of feeling so negative, aggressive and constantly having a go at his people. He told me that he yearns for some good news to give them and for some good results to warrant praise from him instead of the constant irritation, impatience and criticism he seems to be dishing out.

Listening to him suddenly inspired me to launch into a description of how I train my dressage horse (I can guess what you are thinking!). I explained to my client that training my horse involved the agile use of 2 sophisticated and complex techniques known as Slap & Tickle. Everytime I ask my horse to do something to which he correctly responds immediately, I give him a little tickle on the top of his neck. When I first started training him, I did this everytime he responded correctly. When he did not respond I either gave him a quick reminder with my legs and in some cases a little slap with my training whip.

NOW, I am not suggesting for one minute that my client should be literally tickling or slapping his people! However, the principle here is sound. The success I have found depends on consistency and speed. There must only be a nano second between the instruction/action/Slap or Tickle. Otherwise the association is lost.

My client laughed loudly when I announced that in my experience everyone likes a bit of Slap & Tickle. He said he would give it a try and reported back a week later that he was personally feeling a whole lot better and had noticed an uplift in the morale of his people.

So it’s very simple. When someone responds well to your instruction/request, make them feel good. When they do not respond, or perform badly, let them know immediately! Be consistent and be quick. It’s not complicated and it works. So why do we have such difficulties with it?

It seems to be a continuing problem with management today. I encounter huge resistance to having these types of conversations, whether they be positive or negative. Is it gender specific or culture specific I wonder? I have heard it said that in the UK we don’t praise people for doing what they are paid for and I have also heard it said that blokes don’t have those sorts of ’soft’ conversations.

All I know is that it works and especially in times like this, when we need people to work even harder and be more committed – all without being paid more. So it makes more sense to me that if you cannot pay someone to do more, then you have to at least make them feel good about it.


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