Positivity is great for individuals, but has no place in business. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. If you want to get ahead, keep your head down, remain focused on your goals, figure out what’s likely to go wrong and prevent that from happening. Get clear on your position and advocate for it at every opportunity and in every meeting. That should do it. Right?
Not so much. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Enter Marcial Losada, PhD, director of the Center for Advanced Research (CFAR) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Losada had a long career in industry, and upon retirement indulged his passion for mathematical modeling of group behavior. In a laboratory specially built to look like a boardroom, he and his team closely observed the interactions of business team members during hour-long meetings. Specifically, they observed three dimensions of behavior, namely whether it was:
- Positive or negative
- Self-focused or other-focused
- Based on inquiry or advocacy
What they discovered was that the highest performing teams, measured by profitability, customer satisfaction ratings, and evaluations by superiors, peers and subordinates, had a 6:1 ratio of positive versus negative behaviors. They asked questions as often as they defended their own points of view. Their attention was focused outwards as much as it was inwards, leading to an approach that was fresh and creative.
The lowest performing teams had a positivity ratio of 1:1, and the mixed teams came in around 2:1. These ratios did not lead to sustainable business success. Such organizations tended to flounder, characterized by negative, self-absorbed advocacy. People simply defended their own positions and became critical of everything else. They merely waited to talk, which was the most common type of team dynamic. Yup, I’ve been in a few meetings like that, and I’m sure you have, too.
It seems that business success meshes nicely with Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s “Broaden and Build” theory of human evolution, as described in her book, Positivity, and on this YouTube clip. Positive emotions open our hearts and minds, leaving us more receptive and creative, whereby we build new skills, form new relationships, acquire new knowledge and find new ways of being in the world. Positivity also fuels resilience, leaving us more flexible and responsive.
We must have a balance, however, or we have the potential to run amok, failing to anticipate potential roadblocks and difficulties. That’s where the Losada Ratio comes in. For sustainable success, both personally and in business, we need a minimum positivity ratio of approximately 3:1 and a maximum of 11:1.
What can we learn from this, and how can we apply it in our own lives and businesses?
First, you can measure your own positivity ratio at www.positivityratio.com. You can keep track of changes in your ratio so you can experiment with new ways to raise it, by either increasing your positivity or decreasing your negativity. It’s a ratio, remember, so you can influence it from both directions.
Dr. Fredrickson has put together a Toolkit, with a dozen, scientifically-backed tools to help. Among them are:
- Build High Quality Connections – those that are based on mutual appreciation and encouragement.
- Develop Distractions – go for the Healthy, such as crossword puzzles, going to the gym, cleaning out the basement, rather than Unhealthy, like inhaling a bag of Cheetos, washed down with a beer or two.
- Dispute Negative Thinking – channel your inner lawyer and lay waste to those persistent negative beliefs.
- Connect With Nature – spend at least 20 minutes a day outside, particularly in the spring.
- Practice Mindfulness Meditation – this one is recommended on any number of fronts for reducing anxiety & depression, and enhancing neural connections.
Check it out. Choose one or two tools and give them a whirl. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You might even flourish.