What’s Your Losada Ratio?
Something that I’ve always held to be self-evident – that people who generally have more positive interactions than negative ones with others have better relationships, are more effective and are better able to appropriately respond to feedback – now has an evidence base of support.
In my previous life in corporate Human Resources, I recall blithely (and somewhat naively) declaiming that “if 90% of what you say to someone is positive, then they are more willing to readily accept and act on that 10% when you need to give them constructive feedback.” Back in the early 2000s I had no evidence-base for that statement whatsoever, but believed it anyway. Call it ‘intuition’ if you will.
Barbara Frederickson, winner of the first $100,000 Templeton Prize for research in positive psychology, has provided the evidence – my 9:1 ratio may have been somewhat optimistic, but the hypothesis is supported – and the ratios sharply differ between workplace relationships and personal relationships.
Based on extensive research with sixty companies, Frederickson found that companies with a better than 2.9:1 ratio of positive to negative statements in business meetings are flourishing. Below that ratio, they are not doing well economically. Though there is a limit – where the ratio is above 13:1 relationships become aimless and credibility is lost. She calls this the ‘Losada ratio’, named for the colleague who discovered the relationship between positive interactions and economic well-being.
Take a moment to consider your workplace interactions, both with colleagues and subordinates. Do you have at least an approximate 3:1 ratio of saying positive things to negative ones? If you don’t – could that be having an effect on your bottom line? Are your people being constrained by a fear of criticism, which will lead them into doing only what is necessary and directed, and stifle creativity and confidence? Conversely, if you have over-embraced positivity and say more than thirteen positive things to every negative one, have you set yourself up to be taken advantage of, with your people not giving their best in the belief that you will just happily accept whatever effort they can be bothered to bestow on your business?
Workplace relationships and personal relationships are different – the people that we choose to make significant in our personal lives both need and deserve a higher ratio of positive to negative interactions.
As Frederickson quite rightly points out, based on research on couples communication conducted by John Gottman, a 2.9:1 ratio in a personal relationship means that you are heading for divorce. Whether it is a life partner, child or close friend, these people need you to invest in their well-being more than any colleague or subordinate in the workplace ever would. So the ratio automatically needs to lift, ideally to at least 5:1. You might not be completely enamoured of every single thing that your partner, child or friend does – and you need to be able to express your feelings or ask them to change their behaviour. However, if that is couched in a truly loving relationship, where at least five times you say something appreciative to every one time you express dissatisfaction, you have the building blocks for a relationship that works.
So think about all your relationships – both at work and in your personal life. What are your Losada ratios? Can you get your communications into the effectiveness band, and make all your relationships flourish?