Why is it that people bring all their emotional burdens and give you a fake-work projects to do etc. And there’s all kinds of negativity: complaining and backbiting and gossiping and all that crap at work. And this is building from our last week’s episode where we talked about negativity bias. Well it’s happening at work too. So stay tuned and we’re gonna figure out how to fix it. As a coach public speaker and best-selling author I teach topics just like this one all around the world, so stay tuned and I’ll give you practical tools that you can use to make both yourself and those around you both happier and more successful. So yeah last week we talked about negativity bias. This is this idea that the things that hurt us, that have big impacts on us. We learn from it it hard and fast. It’s impactful. It’s sadly more impactful than the positive things that happen in our lives. That’s simply because that’s how we’ve evolved as a species. It helped us survive. One hundred thousand years ago tribal people learned a lot from the scary, negative things and didn’t get the same kind of learning and big lift up that we would hope to get from positivity. So if you watched last week’s video, great. If you didn’t there’s a link so that you can go back and watch it. I think it’s really important and foundational. The negativity bias at work is the same as it is anywhere else. There’s all kinds of things that aren’t going well at work and we seize on them. In fact at work we probably do it more than other places because we never go to a meeting where the agenda is list of things that are going well.
In fact another name for an agenda might be lists of things that are going badly. Lists of problems. The agenda items are all things that we have to deal with are the negative stuff. Most of the hallway water cooler talk we have at work is sadly all too often about the negative crap that’s going on at work too. Often about personalities and politics. All that stuff. You know all about it. Well there’s a reason why in that last video I said we need to get to a three to one or better ratio of positive things over negative things. For every negative thing that we seize on in the workplace we need at least three positive things to offset that negativity bias. The science shows that if you can get it even higher still four to one or five to one positive to negative things we really start seeing productivity, profitability, the success of the business take off. This is all based on research done by a guy named Marcia Losada. He’s a brilliant guy. He spent his adult life after getting his PhD in psychology studying and working with organization’s sales teams.
He had amazing data at the end of his career. He knew exactly how profitable, how productive, what the customer service ratings were, what the peer and superior valuations were of the members of sales teams and he often had it in the same organization. Like, an insurance company. In Seattle and Portland and Las Vegas and Houston and across the whole country he knew exactly how well these teams did. What he didn’t know was how positive these teams were. But he had something very interesting. Upon his retirement he realized he had thousands of hours of videotape of these sales teams and meetings. So along with Barbara Fredrickson another researcher PhD from of the University of North Carolina, they got a pile of graduate students to watch every boring minute of these videos of sales teams and meetings. They evaluated every single word spoken: was it positive, negative or neutral. They made judgment calls about whether somebody was advocating for their own position or inquiring for the about somebody else’s or whether a person was talking about themselves or other people. They made these judgment calls about whether there was kind of a negative component to what people were bringing to the meeting or a more positive component. Whenever this business teams had a three to one ratio of positive to negative they were really good teams, and any ratios below that were crappy teams, really poor performing teams. And didn’t matter if you were one to one or two to one. You needed this tipping point of three to one and if you were better than 3 to 1 the teams got better and better and better. The best team they saw working anywhere had a positive to negative ratio 5.9 to one.
They were the rock stars beating every other business team for their company across the entire country. So there you have it we need these high ratios and there’s other independent researchers studying happiness and success from completely different fields that come up with the same ratio. John Gottman for example who’s the preeminent behavioral psychologist studying couples shows the exact same ratios. At three to one couples will make it. At five to one couples are genuinely happy and have rich and juicy relationships. So these ratios really mean something. So how do we get these ratios up at work is the question. Well why don’t we start every meeting that we’re chairing or have asked your chair who’s leading the meeting to add the agenda item; what’s going well. It is that simple look to your business team around you and just set the tone for the meeting that’s upcoming.
Hey, what’s going well. And I’ll tell you when I first started doing this it was embarrassing. There would be silence and people would giggle and go what the hell is wrong with this guy. Why’s he asking what’s going well? But I persisted I knew what the positive psychology literature said. And so every single meeting that I had, especially with my primary business team in my last role I began the meeting with: what’s going well. And pretty soon we got into the habit of it and people would start sharing these stories. Now not only did sharing these stories lift our mood and make us kind of collectively celebrate our successes but we learned from each other on an ongoing basis the little tweaks we were making in the aspects of our business that we could apply with our teams to lift the overall performance of the business. It’s a very very powerful intervention. Ask the question what’s going well. And here’s another little technique for those of you who are in leadership roles and maybe even for those who aren’t. Everyday the first thing you should do is start by some act of appreciation. If you’re the kind of the manager who walks around the office to start the day with your cup of coffee and have social visits with people, that’s beautiful. If you’re good at that and you’re sincere and it comes across as really genuine when you’re there talking to your people, make a point of appreciating the things they’re good at. I was never that walk around kind of manager, so I made a habit of starting every single day by: the first email that I send would go to some individual specific in my office and giving them some word of appreciation.
I’ll tell you when I read this research I found it hard at first I didn’t think I could really do it, but I found that with my administrative staff it was pretty easy. There was transactional stuff that was obvious that they did. “Hey thanks so much for organizing those meetings for me, I really appreciate the meeting rooms being booked. Thank you so much.” Easy email. But when I got good at this I realized that my high-level professionals doing very complicated autonomous tasks, it took a different kind of appreciation. So that’s when I’d say to people in an email something like “gee, I really appreciated you the way you did that case file review yesterday, you brought the whole team on board. We understood the problem and I got great action items that I think everybody’s taking away. I really appreciate that kind of meeting.” You notice I don’t even need to say thank you in that email. The fact is my professional who’s receiving it is simply going to feel seen, understood and appreciated for the actual work they’re doing. These kinds of acts of appreciation not only make it a habit for you to see more of what’s going on well and then spreading it to your team so that they feel some resonance with the organization, that when they come in they feel like they belong here. People appreciate them and they’re being recognized for their good work. I’ll tell you that is gonna lift your ratios way way up over three to one in your workplace. So that you can get not only the happiness that comes from that but the greater business success that comes from higher ratios of happiness in your workplace.
I’m Paul Krismer, your happiness expert.