Most of the time, we feel the need to give feedback when something goes wrong, when a performance standard is not met, when we see an opportunity to improve, or when we are unhappy with a result. There is a deficit focus to our feedback.
This habit gives feedback a bad name. We’ve all heard those words… “Can I give you some feedback?” and done an internal shudder. We’d all rather avoid than approach feedback, and this is because we all have the ratio wrong.
We need to adopt a radical change in our relationship to with feedback, and this means establishing a habit of giving positive feedback at least 6 times more often than negative feedback.
In short, we need to notice the good stuff more than we notice the bad.
Marcial Losada was a Chilean psychologist who worked with Emily Healphy and Barbara Fredrickson in the early 2000’s to establish the positivity ratio of high performing teams. In their studies, he distinguished high-performance, medium-performance and low-performance teams based on three criteria: profitability, customer satisfaction ratings and 360-degree feedback ratings (ratings provided by managers, peers, direct reports, and sometimes customers). The study showed that in high performing teams, the expression of positive feedback outweighs that of negative feedback by a ratio of nearly 6 to 1 (5.6 to 1). By contrast, in low performing teams, the ratio is about 1.4 to 1.
Let’s stop to consider this.
Think of all the feedback you have provided in the past week. What would you say your ratio is? Are you having six positive feedback conversations for every negative conversation? For those in the confines of lockdown in Victoria, I can imagine having ANY conversation right now is an effort; let alone a positive one!
I would hazard a guess that most of us need to increase the amount of positive encounters we are having to come closer to that 6 to 1 ratio.
Other researchers have also established positivity ratios in different contexts. Dr John Gottman, well known relationship counsellor, researcher and founder of The Gottman Institute established the “magic ratio” of 5 to 1 in happy marriages. Dr Gottman and his colleague Robert Levenson conducted a longitudinal study that enabled him to predict with 90% accuracy which couples would stay happily married and which couples would end in divorce.
In happy marriages, for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions. Conversely, if the positive to negative ratio during conflict is 1 to 1 or less, the marriages were more likely to end in divorce. In this case, the positivity ratio impacts the performance of a marriage.
Dr Barbara Fredrickson, distinguished professor of psychology and author of “Positivity”, established the 3 to 1 ratio of positive to negative emotions in your day. People who experience positive emotions in a 3 to 1 ratio to negative emotions report being happier, healthier and more resilient. This is because negativity pervades self-talk, influences how you feel and ultimately how you respond to the world.
Alarmingly, Dr Frederickson’s website reports that 80% of Americans fall short of the 3-to-1 positivity ratio that predicts flourishing. That means only 20% of us are using the power of positive emotions to achieve a flourishing life; a life with both happiness and meaning, encompassing both feeling good and doing good.
Here’s a summary:
High Performing Teams:
6 to 1 (Positive to negative Feedback in high performing teams)
5 to1 (Positive to Negative interactions during conflict)
A flourishing life:
3 to 1 (Positive to negative emotions experienced each day)
There are two main advantages to adopting a positivity ratio:
Using a positivity ratio is like building an emotional bank account. Noticing and appreciating the efforts of your colleagues and loved ones builds emotional equity, so that when it comes time to address a challenge or deficit of some kind, they are more likely to take your feedback for what it is – a gift.
By focussing on what people are doing well, you reinforce the behaviours that impact desirable outcomes. Recognising and calling out positive behaviour that drives results or demonstrates the shared values, makes it clear to all those around you how to meet standards of performance.
In an HBR article, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman examined the 360-degree feedback among 50,000 leaders in their own database. They discovered that for those who started at between the 50th and 80th percentile, positive feedback enabled 62% of this group to improve a full 24 percentage points (to move from the 55 th to the 79 th percentile). They concluded that “only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigour, determination, and creativity”.
If this research isn’t compelling enough – go and give your roommate, partner, or child a bit positive feedback today just for doing a mundane chore like staking the dishwasher or tidying away their mess. Observe what happens to their smile or their behaviour….then ask them to make you a cup of tea 😉