Harvard Business Review published a fascinating piece on March 15 on recent research conducted by Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada into the effectiveness of leadership of 60 divisions of a large computer company. The one question they were trying to answer amongst many: in leadership what is the most effective ratio of positive to negative feedback comments? Is it 1:1 or 1:3 or 2:1? The results were compelling, the ideal ratio of positive to negative comments was 5.6:1 ie nearly 6 times the number of positive to negative comments. This ratio is supported by research done by John Gottman into happy marriages. The ratio of positive to negative comments for a happy marriage, 5:1. I clearly need to lie more!


So how does this research translate into a happy balanced team? What practical steps can you action as the leader of your business to ensure a more positive environment? Here are a few pointers I’ve found helps create the best environment:

  1. Ensure clarity of ownership of the task at hand. Negative feedback often is needed because people don’t understand what’s expected of them.
  2. Praise great results at the time. Don’t hide behind – its their job to sell! If a sales professional closes a deal let them know you appreciate it.
  3. Go out of your way to reward the “off the ball” moves that support the team. There are so many decisive gestures done by silent heroes in business that go unrecognized. You know the type of things. The receptionist that stays late to help out in the office client event. The admin supervisor that works a 12 hour day to reconcile the purchase ledger. The web designer that produces the better version overnight.
Getting the right mix of positive and negative feedback is all about setting the scene, ensuring clarity of purpose and allowing a constructive culture to build around your business.