Saturday, July 02, 2005

The power of positive conversations at home & work

I know I’m doing a lot of cross-posting, but I’m still wrestling with finding my own voice on my blog.  I’ve written a half-dozen posts in the last week, then thrown them away because they sound stupid.  But speaking of negative talk, this post from “Leadership Now” is fantastic.  It articulates so clearly what we all believe through empirical evidence.


What’s great is that the study points to a simple truth.  Relationships only have a given capacity to absorb and process negativity from their surroundings.  Relationships also have a fairly finely tuned sense of when others are blowing sunshine up their pant legs.  Two much “positivity” is dismissed as unauthentic which lowers the quality of the relationship.


The post is a little long, but worth reading.

Crabbing, whining, belly-aching and other forms of negative communication are not only annoying, but potentially counterproductive. The ratio of positive-to-negative interactions can have significant implications: like predicting—with accuracy that would put your favorite weather forecaster to shame—workplace performance, the quality of relationships, and even the likelihood of starry-eyed newlyweds splitting up and going their separate ways.

Paving the way for scientific foundation for the intuitive truth: the work of sychologist John Gottman. He and his colleagues studied positive-to-negative ratios in marriages and used the data to predict whether 700 newlywed couples would either stay together or end their relationship in divorce.

In predicting Cupid’s course, did they use hidden cameras and microphones for 24/7 monitoring for months on end? Nope. Here’s what they did. They watched one 15-minute conversation between each of the newly hitched love birds. A decade later, a tally of marriages that endured showed that the researchers had predicted the longevity of the relationships with 94% accuracy.

The secret: Marriages that endured had a ratio of positive to negative communication of 5 to 1. That means couples in the relationships that lasted exchanged five times as many positive comments to negative ones in their communication.

What about positive and negative communication patterns at work? Tom Rath of the Gallup Organization and coauthor of How Full Is Your Bucket? — a book about increasing positive emotions in your work and life, points to some relevant organizational research.

He notes a study by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson and mathematician Marcel Losada. They found that work teams with a ratio of positive to negative communication greater than 3 to 1 were significantly more productive than workgroups that did not reach this ratio.

BUT you can get too much of an otherwise good thing. Fredrickson and Losada also found an upper limit for positive-to-negative ratios of 13:1. When workgroups exceed that level of happy chat, performance actually worsened. Blind pollyanish optimism can be not only annoying but counterproductive.

The risk of too much positivism is probably not of great concern in most work environments.

What is the ratio of your positive to negative communication—at home? At work?

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