Five-to-one Odds Says It’ll Work


01 Track 01Five to One Odds Says It’ll Work

This is part three in a series on managing, or parenting, in a way that you correct without corroding. If you’re like me, you’ll find lots of room for improvement here.

The formal field of “positive psychology” is about 12 years old. Positive psych continues to grow out of the premise that we should drop our obsession with pathology and instead spend some time looking at what works. And what works in multiple contexts – child-rearing, marriage, work, and school (nice list, eh?) – is a preponderance of positive over negative comments.

Professor John Gottman‘s fascinating research on successful vs failed marriages quantified the difference. Based upon quantitative research, Gottman found that in marriages that end in divorce, the average ratio of positive to negative feedback was relatively even, 8:10 positive-to-negative. And if you read the title of this RFL, you’re guessing correctly that in strong marriages, the ratio was 5:1 positive-to-negative comments.

Similar research with parents and teachers has demonstrated that a 5:1 ratio generates statistically significant differences in children’s well-being (in one study obliterating socio-economic factors).

So, how are you doing against this 5:1 standard? Steven Ray Flora set up experiments where teachers and youth workers actually logged their “+ and -” comments to kids. One group observed a 2.5:1 ratio, and the other a 1.5:1.  At the end of the experiment many made comments that they were “shocked” “amazed” and “surprised” at how low these initial levels were.  They thought their normal behavior was way more positive than it was.

After doing these baseline logs, then hearing about the research on the positive effects of 5:1 praise, these groups of teachers and youth workers both upped their levels,  logging about 4.5:1 positive-to-negative. They not only reported that the students performed better, but they also reported that they themselves felt they performed better. What a wonderful side-effect!!! I’d encourage you to try a couple day’s log to establish a baseline. And then see how you can up your numbers to improve performance (and make things more fun around here!)

The added benefit to the 5:1 ratio is this:  Who are you more inclined to receive constructive criticism from:  Someone who criticizes you as much as they praise you? Or someone who is generous in demonstrating their support of you?  I don’t think we even need a study to know the answer that giving more positives is a way to open others up to constructive criticism, and so to

Lead with your best self!


If you’re interested in Gottman’s fascinating research, check out his book on why marriages succeed and fail:

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