When was the last time you said something nice to someone at work? How about hearing something nice said about you? Sure, compliments or praise about your performance make you feel good, but they are also good for the bottom line. It may not be a well-known fact, but positive communication plays a huge role in company performance.
I believe the workplace is undergoing a transformation. It may be slow, but it is underway. Studies show that the companies with the highest levels of performance also have the highest levels of positive communication. Positive communication is defined as comments or statements that are supportive, encouraging and appreciative versus comments that are critical, disapproving or contradictory . In broader terms, positive communication takes place when supportive and affirmative language is used in place of negative or critical language.
So how can you tell if your company practices positive communication? It can be broken down by numbers, really. This is an area where the trickle down theory really does work. Top management needs to be involved. The ratio of positive to negative comments from management must be above five to one. So for every negative comment made, there are at least five positive comments. Interestingly, medium performing companies have a ratio of 1.85 to 1. Low performing companies show a ratio of .36 to 1.
I don’t know about you, but I would much rather work in a place that puts more importance on what goes right than on what goes wrong. Seems like it would make for a better working environment to me.
There are other factors involved in positive communication. High performing companies have a greater rate of inquiry statements to advocacy statements. Not surprisingly, asking others for advice, opinions, or viewpoints fosters stronger communication and results than standing firm on or defending an opinion or position. There is also a balance regarding self-focused statements versus others-focused statements in positively aligned companies. High performance companies show a ratio of almost one to one in this regard. These organizations show a pattern where concern for others is on par with concern for one’s self. As companies move down the performance scale, the ratio of self vs. others concerns grows by almost three to one.
It is important to note that high-performance companies do not try to eliminate negative statements altogether. That would be unrealistic as well potentially damaging. There will always be areas of concern and the need for correction in organizations. The difference is how those concerns and corrections are addressed and handled. As with anything, there must be a balance between positive and negative communication. Too much positive communication can lead to complacency and mediocrity. Too much negative feedback can instill defensiveness or withdrawal in the workforce. Neither extreme is beneficial to high performance in the workplace.
The power of positive communication plays a huge role not only in the workplace, but in our personal lives as well. This same ratio of five to one can determine the long-term viability of a marriage or relationship. In 1994, a gentleman by the name of John Gottman studied couples in fifteen minute conversations regarding difficult subjects. Child rearing, money, or time spent at work were examples of topics covered. He discovered that one of the best ways to predict if a relationship would survive was directly related to the ratio of positive to negative communications. Once again, the magic formula of five to one was the benchmark that indicates a relationship’s sustainability. Gottman followed these couples over ten years, and predicted with a high measure of success which couples would still be married ten years later based on the fifteen minute conversation used in the study.
Why is positive communication so important to successful relationships, both personally and professionally? Most likely it is because a supportive and appreciative method of communication fosters stronger and more trusting relationships. Living or working in an environment where you feel valued and appreciated will almost always guarantee that you bring your best self to the table. Sharing ideas or thoughts is much easier when you don’t feel that someone is gunning for you–looking to prove you wrong or shoot your idea down. Positive communication fosters a positive environment which acts as a cradle for creativity and productivity.
Alice Roosevelt Longworth once said, ” If you can’t say something nice about someone, come sit next to me.” She may have been fun at a cocktail party, but I don’t know that I would turn to her for relationship advice. Positive communication may not always be witty, nor is it necessarily easy. However, I believe it is crucial to bringing out the best in each of us. When we support and encourage those around us, it is much more likely that we will be supported and encouraged in return. A supportive atmosphere encourages growth and performance, and positive communication is vital if you want to create that atmosphere–whether at home or in the workplace.
Ref: Positive Leadership, Kim Cameron, 2008
Ref: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman, 2000
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