What’s Your Ratio of Postive to Negative at Work?

How many times a day do you give positive feedback to someone as compared to negative? You’ve probably never tracked it. And given our positive biases toward self, most of us would probably say we’re more positive by far than negative.

But some researchers are studying these things and counting up each positive, negative, and neutral statement in the workplace. What they are discovering can lead us to be more mindful of what we say. We need to find a balance between positive and negative remarks, and keep a ratio of three to one, if we want our feedback to yield improved performance.

Over the past decade, scientists have explored the impact of positive-to-negative interaction ratios both in work and in marriages. And they’ve found that this positive-negative ratio can be used to predict — with remarkable accuracy — everything from workplace performance to divorce.

This work began with noted psychologist John Gottman’s exploration of positive-to-negative ratios in marriages. Using a 5:1 ratio, which Gottman dubbed “the magic ratio,” he and his colleagues predicted whether 700 newlywed couples would stay together or divorce.

They scored their positive and negative interactions in 15-minute conversations between each husband and wife. Ten years later, the follow-up revealed that they had predicted divorce with 94% accuracy.

Apparently there is a similar magic ratio for measuring worker satisfaction. The Gallup Organization has surveyed some 4 million workers on the topics of recognition and praise with  startling results. Sixty-five percent of people reported receiving no recognition on the job last year.

An estimated 22 million workers are presently “actively disengaged,” or extremely negative in their workplace. The number one reason that Americans leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. There are not enough positive moments to offset the negative ones.

A recent study found that workgroups with positive-to-negative interaction ratios greater than 3:1 are significantly more productive than teams that do not reach this ratio.

Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina and Marcial Losada from Catholic University of Brazil, studying the dynamics of business relationships, concluded that business teams flourish with positivity ratios above 2.9.

Here’s where it gets interesting: not only does excessive negativity (a ratio under 5:1) threaten to undermine a marriage, excessive positivity does too. In the workplace, we begin to see disintegration of relationships when a positive to negative remark ratio exceeds 11:1.

Too much optimism can be as harmful as pessimism. As one author puts it, when we depart sufficiently from reality, optimism deserves a new name: denial.

I’ll bet the risks of being too positive in both our marriages and our work groups are at a minimum. However, who among us doesn’t need to be more positive and encouraging and point out what people are doing right, more often?

Show of hands?

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