The Magic Ratio
Over the past decade, scientists have explored the impact of positive-to-negative interaction ratios in our work and personal life. And they’ve found that this 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 by scoring their positive and negative interactions in one 15-minute conversation 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 Organisation has surveyed some 4 million workers on the topics of recognition and praise, and they delivered startling results. Along with the 65% of people who 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.
The Bucket and the Dipper
In a recent book How Full is Your Bucket, psychologists Donald O. Clifton and Tom Rath propose a metaphor of looking at positive and negative interactions during the day. Imagine we all have a bucket within us that needs to be filled with positive experiences, such as recognition or praise. When we’re negative toward others, we use a dipper to remove from their buckets and diminish their positive outlook. When we treat others in a positive manner, we fill not only their buckets but ours as well.
Here are 5 strategies from these authors for increasing your magic ratio of positive to negative moments in any given day:
- Prevent “Bucket Dipping.” Increase your own awareness of how often your comments are negative. Work toward a ratio of five positive comments to every one negative comment.
- Shine a light on what’s right. Try focusing on what employees or peers do right rather than where they need improvement, and discover the power of reinforcing good behaviors.
- Make best friends. People with best friends at work have better safety records, receive higher customer satisfaction scores, and increase workplace productivity.
- Give unexpectedly. A recent poll showed that the vast majority of people prefer gifts that are unexpected.
- Reverse the Golden Rule. Instead of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” you should “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” Individualisation is key when filling others’ buckets.