If you’re trying to create better relationships in your life, it may be worth considering the 5-to-1 ratio. This ratio has long been considered the magic ratio that leads to healthy and lasting relationships. But it’s not just romantic relationships. The 5-to-1 ratio helps with friendships and work relationships as well, creating a more productive workplace.
What Is the 5-to-1 Ratio?
Often, the 5-to-1 ratio is referred to as Gottman’s ratio, as it is the result of research by Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson. Back in the 1970s, the two studied the effects of different interactions to determine if couples would last in a marriage.
By the end of the study, they were able to predict which couples would still be together nine years later with 90 percent accuracy. The two discovered that couples with more positive interactions than negative ones stood the best chance. The ideal ratio: five positive interactions for every negative interaction.
Of course, this rule has been put into place not just for marriages. Businesses and teams also use this ratio to help improve employee morale, general growth, and overall productivity. The ratio works the same. Leaders and employees share five positive types of feedback or interactions for every single negative interaction.
The Power of Negative Interactions
To really understand why it’s 5 to 1, you have to look deeper into the psychology of negative interactions. Negative thoughts are incredibly powerful and can cripple you if you don’t balance them out with something positive, such as a thought or action. Psychologists actually refer to the brain’s response to negative thoughts and interactions as negativity bias.
What this bias means is that you tend to remember and have stronger emotional responses to negative things over positive. For instance, if your boss reprimands you for being late, you’re more likely to fixate on that than your co-worker thanking for all the great work you did on your team project.
The Need for Extra Positive Interactions
Since negative interactions weigh more, it’s difficult to simply replace one negative with one positive. That’s why the 5 to 1 ratio is so important. To balance out the negative, you need five positives in most cases. Of course, an extreme positive can balance or outweigh a minor negative. For instance, being reprimanded for being late probably won’t stick with you as much as the positive experience of getting promoted or getting a raise.
The human brain is wired for negativity. You focus on it more. To get your mind off it, you need multiple positive interactions to provide balance. Without it, all you do is focus on the negative, leading to feelings of anxiety, anger, resentment, and even depression. Naturally, this doesn’t help you stay focused at work, perform better, or get along with co-workers and management.
Why It Works
When put into place correctly, the 5-to-1 ratio has been proven to work with all types of relationships, including those at work. In one study, 60 business teams were studied. Those with more positive feedback and interactions than negative performed much better. The highest performing group had a ratio of 5.6 (positive) to 1 (negative).
The middle group had a ratio of 1.9 to 1. And the worst group had a 1 to 3 ratio. That’s not surprising considering a single negative can outweigh several positives.
People need constructive criticism and feedback to help improve. However, that doesn’t mean berating or embarrassing them. It also doesn’t mean pointing out every single thing someone does wrong. Instead, the 5 to 1 ratio means empowering employees by praising them when they do something right or thanking them for taking a risk, even if it leads to a mistake. This creates a learning experience that has a positive spin on it.
It’s vital for both management and co-workers to follow this rule. This allows everyone to empower each other. When employees see they’re being appreciated, they’re more likely to work harder to keep growing and thriving.
Instead of being distracted dwelling on all they’re doing wrong, they focus on what they’re doing right. At the same time, their skills are growing, they’re learning from mistakes, and becoming better at their jobs.
All of this can even apply when working at home. Take time to show appreciation to your fellow co-workers remotely. Or, if it’s just you, write down five positive things to counter each negative in your day.
Why It Doesn’t Work
On the other hand, this doesn’t always work for everyone. After all, when you’re already busy, are you really counting how many positive interactions you’re providing for others? Are you paying attention to your tone of voice and body language?
It takes time to master the 5-to-1 ratio, meaning it’s difficult to implement. For example, Kathy Laster fully believed in the principles behind this ratio and even wrote about it. However, Laster was criticized for being overly critical with her team. She thought her feedback to them was positive and constructive, but her team saw it as negative and critical.
So, this can also be very subjective. What you think is positive, may come off as negative to someone else. Plus, it can create a culture where people are afraid to speak critically and address obvious problems head on. But, with training and practice, the 5-to-1 ratio can be successfully applied to create healthier work relationships.
Have you ever tried this approach yourself? Do you think it would help you become more productive? Read on to discover team-building games you can play online.
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