Before you send off a work email during a moment of frustration, keep in mind that positive exchanges are less dramatic and enduring than negative ones. Bad moments simply outweigh good ones. Whether you’re having a one-on-one conversation with a colleague or a group discussion, keep this simple shortcut in mind: At least 80 percent of your conversations should be focused on what’s going right.
Workplaces, for example, often have this backward. During performance reviews, managers routinely spend 80 percent of their time on weaknesses, gaps and “areas for improvement.” They spend roughly 20 percent of the time on strengths and positive aspects. They need to flip this around. Any time you have discussions with a team or group, spend the vast majority of the time talking about what is working, and use the remaining time to address deficits.
Use positive words as glue
Most of the words you use carry either a positive charge or a negative charge. Fortunately, there is what researchers call a “positive bias in human expression.” In large-scale studies on this topic spanning multiple countries, roughly four out of every five words used in writing were found to be positive.
Positive words, whether spoken or written, are the glue that holds relationships together. Most conversations, letters and emails are overwhelmingly positive. They need to be so the heavily weighted negative words do not counteract them. Words with a negative charge have roughly four times the weight of those with a positive charge.
If you type a note to a friend and make one negative remark, it will take approximately four positive comments just to get that person back to neutral. If you have an online debate with a colleague, every sentence the recipient perceives as negative will increase the deficit.
When you need to challenge someone, address difficult issues or deliver bad news, just be sure to mention a few positive things as well. Balance the overall conversation with far more positive than negative words. Then try to close with specific and hopeful actions. Help the other person see the positive consequences of any changes you discuss. If you bombard the recipient with negative remarks, he is more likely to shut down and not listen.
Any time you are communicating with another person, be mindful of the importance of using positive words to hold things together. It may seem inconsequential in the moment, but subtle messages stick in a person’s mind. If friends know they can count on a message or phone call from you to boost their moods a little, it will strengthen the bonds of your relationships.
Adapted from Are You Fully Charged? by Tom Rath for Live Happy.
TOM RATH is a researcher, filmmaker and author of six international best-sellers, including StrengthsFinder 2.0, Eat Move Sleep, and Are You Fully Charged? His most recent work includes the feature-length documentary Fully Charged, a film featuring many of the world’s top social scientists.