Negativity exists in every relationship. You fight with your spouse, you nag the kids to get ready faster in the morning, or your best friend takes a bit of well-meaning advice badly. There’s no getting around it, nor should there be. Conflict provides us with huge opportunities for learning about one another and personal growth. We need negativity to build stronger relationships with our partners, children, and friends.
However, conflict goes bad when the happy times no longer outweigh the bad times. And I don’t just mean being off by a percentage of two. Your relationships should be way off balance – the positive interactions must far outweigh the bad. In fact, Dr. John Gottman has developed a ratio for predicting the success of marriages. It’s 5:1. In other words, you need five times as many positive interactions as negative ones for a relationship to work.
Think about your children. When you have a bad day with them during an otherwise great week, you recover faster from the bad day, and you don’t feel as guilty, knowing that the days prior were great. However, when you have a string of bad days, you know instinctively that you have to start fresh and shift your mood, your approach, or your attitude.
The great news is that studies show that our well-being does not hinge on the intensity of happy experiences, rather the frequency. This means that building in brief periods of positive time, on a regular basis, with your loved ones will go a long way to a successful relationship.
Let’s apply this principle to the workplace.
As leaders, we know that perfect harmony does not make for a truly productive work environment. When people care passionately about their work, they tend to butt heads. We need to allow room for those momentary flare ups. But what if every staff interaction feels cantankerous? It’s time to work toward a 5:1 Ratio.
Just like at home with your spouse and children, it is not the grand gestures that make the real difference – they won’t really help smooth over those rough moments. Think about the boss who takes his staff out for drinks every Friday night, but is a total monster all week. Do the drinks really matter?
You’ll make more of an impact by intentionally employing the 5:1 Ratio. Stop and say good morning. Ask your assistant about her daughter’s school performance. Have regularly scheduled coffee breaks and lunches with your team. Take a deep breath before showing your frustration.
And, building a friendly rapport with your employees will make it infinitely easier to have that difficult conversation down the road. It will also build your confidence in the relationship, which allows for both parties to bounce back from conflict faster, ready to tackle the next challenge and get work done.
Think of this as the first time in your life you are going to try to be off balance – and then watch your relationships grow.