The Positive/Negative Communication Ratio: the Power of Language
The basis for facilitative language is Corollary Twenty Nine from the Law of reciprocity which states that language determines the conversation, the conversation determines the relationship, the relationship determines the outcome.”
The Positive/Negative Communication Ratio: It`s All About Language
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
In other words, the language that an organization uses can make or break that company. Literally.
The research I am referring to was conducted by Marcial Losada, a Brazilian mathematician and psychologist in conjunction with the University of Michigan. Using a one way mirror, Losada and his team conducted a rather extensive study of the interaction patterns in 60 companies.
- One third of these companies were flourishing economically.
- One third were doing OK
- And one third were failing
Performance was defined by three criteria: profitability, customer satisfaction and 360-degree evaluations.
Losada’s research team transcribed every word spoken in every meeting, coding each sentence for positive or negative words.
Hundreds of thousands of data points were gathered over a 28 day period at two labs in Ann Arbor and Cambridge that represented the interaction patterns of these business teams
They found that work teams with a PNR greater than 2.9/1 were significantly more productive (able to handle complex, non linear interactional issues) than work-groups that did not reach this ratio.
High Performance Teams Have A P/N Ratio Of 5.6/1.
Medium performance teams have a P/N of 1.85/1.
Low performance teams have a P/N of 0.36/1 (more negative than positive).
Life (and business) however is a vessel not just comprised of (positive) sails but a (practical) rudder.
So when the positive to negative ratio exceeds 11.6:1, things get worse and downright annoying in some cases.
They also found that industries and professions, such as law that require and use negative language extensively have the highest depression, divorce and suicide rates.
The Losada Line
The Losada Zone (2.9013 – 11.6345) defines the boundary conditions for complex dynamics in human interaction.
The Losada Line (2.9/1) separates people who “flourish” from those who “languish” in complex organizational interactions.
What about Marriage
John Gottman (1994) found similarly that marriages that flourish need a P/N ratio of 5.1 or more.
Gottman measured the positive to negative exchanges of 700 newlywed couples scoring their positive and negative interactions in one 15-minute conversation between each husband and wife.
The ratio or cut off point was a ratio of 5/1, 5 positive statements for every one negative statement you make to your spouse.
Not the 2.9 ratio that a business requires.
Ten years later 94% of those couples at 5 or less were divorced.
Communication can still be a Little Tricky
The trick of course is to understand that what might be positive language to one person is not necessarily positive to another and vice versa.
Then to know what to say, that is to speak positively about the right thing; not “you are smart but you really worked hard on that project. Good job.
But What About Those Times That You Really Do Disagree, Are Disappointed, Angry Etc?
Apparently, if you relate positively there will be better performance.
If not however, then you proceed or move from communicating to facilitate.
An Example of the Impact of Language:
Suzie`s P to N Ratio
Suzie walks into the office at 8:00 a.m.
The affable receptionist greets her with a smile, calls her by the name she prefers (“Suzie,” not “Susan”), and strikes up some small talk.
Suzie’s Positive-to-Negative Ratio: Positive 1, Negative 0
As Suzie rounds the corner, she notices that the elevator door is beginning to close.
So she speeds up, knowing there is usually a wait for the elevator first thing in the morning.
It looks like she will miss the elevator, but at the last moment, an arm shoots out and stops the door from closing.
As the door reopens, Suzie thanks the unknown woman who held the elevator for her.
Suzie’s Ratio: Positive 2, Negative 0
A few minutes later, Suzie settles in at her desk and starts to read her e-mail.
One of the first messages is from her least favorite co-worker, Greg.
Even before opening the message, she knows what to expect: relentless complaining.
As if on cue, Greg’s note starts with a one-liner about how bad traffic was coming in to work.
Then he breaks into a tirade about having to “pick up the slack” for the rest of the team.
“Yeah right,” Suzie mutters to herself.
She knows that Greg’s constant negativity is the real drag on her workgroup’s productivity.
And reading his note is a lousy way to start her day.
Suzie’s Ratio: Positive 2, Negative 0
Instead of venting her frustration to others, Suzie decides to grab a cup of coffee and settle down.
In the break room, she sees Amy, one of her closest friends.
Amy smiles and immediately tells Suzie that she “loves the new shoes.”
They end up chatting for about 10 minutes, and Suzie feels much better.
Suzie’s Ratio: Positive 3, Negative 1
Suzie loses track of time while she happily chats with Amy.
But then she discovers that she’s running late for her 8:30 meeting.
As Suzie rushes down the hall to the conference room, she feels guilty.
She is rarely, if ever, late to meetings.
Suzie finally makes it to the conference room, about seven minutes behind schedule, according to her wristwatch.
This is Where you, Susie’s Boss Come into the Story
Meanwhile, you, Suzie’s boss, are sitting in the conference room, along with five other people who report to you.
Everyone else had arrived on time and was ready to go by 8:30.
By the time Suzie walks in, your patience is running thin.
The first thing Suzie does, before even taking her seat, is to apologize to the group for wasting their time.
Then you decide to kick off the meeting by saying, “Well, now we can get started, albeit ten minutes behind schedule.”
This jab hits Suzie like a brick.
She already felt guilty and had apologized to everyone.
Your comment only exacerbated her bad feelings.
Suzie’s Ratio: Positive 3, Negative 2
In the span of just over 30 minutes, Suzie, your best performer, had three interactions that were positive and two that were negative.
Put another way, her positive-to-negative ratio, or PNR, was 3:2.
Sound good? Well, it’s not good enough for her, nor for anyone else you lead.
And beware, manager!
Unless you are actively working, today and every day, to make sure Suzie has more positive interactions, you may soon have a disengaged employee on your hands or worse, you could lose one of your best people.
Suzie`s Positive to Negative Score: Your Impact
Consider the effect your comments had when Suzie walked in late.
Had you simply told her “It’s OK” or maybe even offered a few encouraging words, her score would have been a healthy 4:1.
She is a top producer who’s never late; you could have cut her some slack.
And instead of sitting through the meeting feeling guilty and disengaged, Suzie might have added a few more ideas to the discussion.
Perhaps she would have inspired or praised someone else, thereby passing her positive energy along to others, instead of complaining to someone about you, or worse still criticizing you behind your back.
Had you decided to handle Suzie’s tardiness differently, it could have had a ripple effect.
When Leaders Display Positive Emotions, Others Take Note and Take Action
Good leaders don’t sit back and wait for things to get better on their own.
Instead, as they walk around the office, make calls, or write e-mails, they are always trying to catch excellence in action.
When they spot a job well done, they call attention to what is right.
This in turn raises the entire organization’s PNR and its productivity.
The practical application, as a leader. that I think you might to consider is that:
1. You can actually make your company more productive and profitable
2. You have social benchmark to measure your progress; the Losada Line.
How do you start such a major undertaking?
Well, as you have been proving the last month or so, it starts with the the leader, as is always the case.
I hope this helps. Good luck.
For more on this topic, we recommend the following
Execute Your Communication