What’s Your Praise-to-Criticism Ratio?

January 8, 2018
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Criticism is hard to swallow for many people. Turns out it’s even harder to undo.

Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson started studying the difference between happy and unhappy couples during the 1970s. They discovered that the key factor between the two is the balance between positive and negative interactions. They computed a “magic ratio” of five to one, meaning that for every negative interaction during conflict, a happy marriage has five or more positive interactions.

This formula doesn’t only apply to marriages. When the University of Michigan Business School compared team performance to the frequency of praise and criticism given within workplace teams, researchers concluded that the top-performing teams used about six times as many positive comments for every negative one. The Harvard Business Review confirmed this study per an article which showed that, “the average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6.”

Dale Carnegie once promised, “Act enthusiastic and you will be enthusiastic.” Similarly, to be a positive person, you must consistently act positive. Whereas positive interactions fuel enthusiasm, well-being and commitment, negative interactions impede them. This is why Dale Carnegie implored people to, “Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”

To compute your praise-to-criticism ratio, choose a few days to track your positive and negative interactions. Positive interactions are easy to identify because they make you feel good. For example, complimenting a colleague on a job well done, encouraging a person who needs support or simply smiling at someone, usually result in feeling uplifted. Negative interactions include non-verbal communication such as rolling eyes at another employee or not looking up from a handheld device when someone is speaking. Negative comments, whether disheartening, sarcastic or disparaging, are obviously negative interactions.

Track your positive and negative interactions, and then compute the ratio. If your tally is a minimum of five positive interactions for every single negative one, congratulations! You are among the fantastic few who has an ideal praise-to-criticism ratio. Don’t fret if you have less than five positive interactions per a single negative one. Instead, consider enrolling in the Dale Carnegie Course in which participants learn to apply the following principles:

  • #1 Don’t criticize, condemn or complain. All three actions can manifest in the form of negative interactions. By avoiding them, your total instances of negative interactions should be much less than if you had continued doing them.
  • #2 Give honest, sincere appreciation. Applying this principle increases the praise quotient. Whether it’s recognizing someone for a job well done or expressing sincere thanks to your boss for being flexible, supportive, encouraging, understanding, etc., these are all positive interactions.
  • #9 Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely. Every time you make someone else feel important, it’s another positive interaction. For example, actively listening when a person is speaking—by nodding in agreement, demonstrates respect—a positive interaction. Using their name, per Mr. Carnegie’s 6th principle, is also a positive interaction because it demonstrates familiarity and respect.
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