Positive Discipline - The Hot Stove Rule


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Recent studies have shown that industrial supervisors are working at less than 60 % of their potential. Basic management skills training is guaranteed to change all this and at such little cost


The word discipline has a negative sound as we immediately think of authority and punishment. However, there is another more constructive way to think about this, which we can call – POSITIVE DISCIPLINE.

Positive discipline is all about creating an orderly environment where people can conduct themselves to agreed standards of behavior to the benefit of everyone. In this way we avoid unnecessary conflict and potential accidents.

Most family groups establish an atmosphere of Positive Discipline, which protects individual's rights but also develops harmony in the family. Positive Discipline is also an excellent learning medium for our children, which allows them to develop in a safe environment.

NEGATIVE DISCIPLINE is conflictive by nature and is damaging to group harmony. A potential negative discipline situation occurs when rules are disobeyed or when they are clearly accepted reluctantly.

Discipline line

The first step is to establish and maintain a reasonable, but firm discipline line.

TOO HIGH - People are insulted. Productivity drops.

TOO LOW - People take liberties. Productivity drops.

This line must be a well-defined set of behavior standards that you expect all employees to abide by and support. It is also important to ensure that these standards, rules or regulations are well-communicated and everyone is fully aware of them. This will tell an employee what is expected and what is not permitted. It is essential to set a discipline line that is achievable and effective in the real world. The key success factors are:


Well communicated

Reasonable and justifiable



There are many aspects to positive discipline and the following is an interesting one.

The “Hot Stove Rule"

However well you handle discipline it remains an unpleasant task that often causes resentment. The challenge to the supervisor is to apply the necessary disciplinary action so that it minimizes damage to individuals and to the manager himself.

A really effective way to incorporate all the rules that are described above is to adopt the hot stove rule. When you touch a hot stove, the reaction is immediate, with warning, consistent, and impersonal. For example:

The burn is immediate; there is no doubt about the cause and effect

There was advance communication, since everyone knows what happens if you touch a stove when it's red hot

The result is consistent; whoever touches a hot stove will always get burned

The result is impersonal because whoever touches a hot stove is burned. The burn was caused by the act of touching the stove, not because of who the person is. Discipline should be directed against the act and not against the person.

The comparison between the “hot stove rule" and disciplinary action is obvious.

Chris Thomas is the author of the Managers Toolbox training material located at http://www.managers-toolbox.com and runs the very successful Basic Management Course for new leaders and supervisors.


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