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Bursts of Color - Your Positivity Ratio

Bursts of Color - Your Positivity Ratio
By Geoff Donaker • Issue #22 • View online
Negative interactions tend to carry more weight than comparable positive ones. You know, like if a colleague compliments your shirt, you may remember it… but if he insults your shirt, you will definitely remember it. Psychologists have suggested aiming for heuristics such as a 3:1 Positivity Ratio (more than 3 positive interactions per 1 negative is good) or even a 5:1 ‘Magic Ratio’ referenced in Social Intelligence:
In a happy, stable marriage a couple experiences about five upbeat interactions for every negative one. Perhaps that same five-to-one ratio is an approximate mean for any ongoing connection in our lives. We could, in theory, do an inventory that evaluates the “nutritional” value of each of our relationships.

The Positivity Ratio in Business
Is a negative stimulus really 3 or 5x as strong as a positive one? And are these ratios scientifically valid? I don’t know. And it’s clearly hard to quantify human emotion. Nonetheless, I’ve found these heuristics useful in the business world: if I want a colleague or client’s long term support, I’d better be in the habit of initiating at least three authentic positive interactions before each time I’m asking for something or being critical.
No Shit Sandwiches, Please
A “shit sandwich” is when someone gives you bad news or critical feedback sandwiched between two compliments. Most old-school performance reviews were constructed this way and I generally find that they don’t work as intended, since the recipient obsesses about the negative “meat” and ignores the positive “buns.” Better to provide that feedback – both positive and otherwise – directly and promptly in the spirit of ongoing coaching.
Catching People Doing Good
As founders and executives, we constantly see things we want done differently, so it can take real work to find timely and authentic ways to provide positive feedback. A friend calls this trying to “catch people doing good.” Two tactics I’ve found helpful for this:
  1. In every 1:1, ask for suggestions about a fellow colleague or subordinate who recently did something well.
  2. Once a day, send a short (but specific) compliment to one of these people, usually via email or text.
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Geoff Donaker

Bursts of Color is a newsletter for start-up leaders who work with Burst Capital. It's meant to include products, people and ideas that I think are interesting and maybe relevant for you.

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