In research conducted by Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada, the effectiveness of 60 strategic leadershipteams at a large information-processing company measured the impact of the ratio of positive comments (“I agree with that,” for instance, or “That’s a terrific idea”) to negative comments (“I don’t agree with you” “We shouldn’t even consider doing that”).
Overall success measures included financial performance, customer satisfaction ratings, and 360-degree feedback ratings of the team members. Heaphy and Losada found the factor that made the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams was the ratio between positive and negative, sarcastic or disparaging comments.
Heaphy and Losada found the average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5:1 (five positive comments for every negative one). The medium-performance teams averaged 4:2 (twice as many positive comments than negative ones.) And the average for the low-performing teams was almost three negative comments for every positive one (1:3)
“Even the most well-intentioned criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative,” Heaphy and Losada report. Critical feedback can lead to a change in behavior, but it doesn’t cause people to put forward their best efforts.
Getting the ratio of positive to negative feedback right makes a difference in both individual and team performance. Negative or disparaging remarks may lead to disengagement that can fuel tension rather than resolve potential performance or behavioral problems.
What ratio of positive to negative feedback to do you practice at home or in the workplace?
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