The Leaders & Lovers Ratio

May 5, 2016

You’ve seen them. The manager, leader or spouse who zeroes in on the negative. They think they are helping.They aren’t.

Relationship, work place and performance experts can prove it.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman have an 80% success rate predicting which relationships will fail based on one ratio. For three decades their teams have listened to couples talk. Those with less than a 2.9:1 negative to positive ratio are heading for divorce. Those with a 5:1 ratio have strong and loving marriages.

This applies at work. Award winning social scientist and Positivity author Barbara L. Fredrickson PhD has researched this same phenomena in workplaces. She went into 60 companies and transcribed every word spoken in their meetings (poor thing!). Each sentence was analyzed and coded for negative or positive words. “Companies with a better than 2.9 to 1 ratio for positive to negative comments are flourishing.”*  Below that, Fredrickson explains, companies are not doing well economically.

Those of you with your thinking caps on could say, “Oh come on. Surely the companies that are doing well talk about doing well and those that aren’t talk about what’s not working.” Only thing is researchers have gone into sports teams and the ratio of positive to negative comments predict which teams make the championships and those that falter. Hmm.

This doesn’t mean we all start releasing a fire hose of positive comments. You’d lose credibility. Nor does it mean adding another positive comment to the feedback sandwich (the feedback sandwich is one negative comment sandwiched between two positive comments).

The 3:1 ratio is a building capacity approach akin to the consulting practice of ‘Appreciative Inquiry’. Leaders build capacity by pointing out the good where it is warranted then strengthen capacity by pointing out what’s not working as a way to get better. A leader would over the time of a meeting, or training session ensure that their ratio overall is at least 3:1. Framing the negative as a trail maker or growth opportunity on the path to excellence ensures progress. For those of you concerned with your brand’s performance or your relationship’s wellbeing this tool helps you level up.


*Fredrickson’s quote is from Martin Seligman’s book Flourish Random House, 2011.


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Good is no longer good enough. The goal is perfection and the path that takes us there leads to excellence.
Louise B. Karch