How important is culture to the success of a company? Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson and her research team wanted to find out, so they transcribed every word spoken in meetings at over sixty companies. About one-third of these companies were doing well, one-third of the companies were doing okay and one-third were failing. The meeting transcriptions were coded for positive or negative words and then a ratio was determined.
Fredrickson reported that companies with a ratio of 2.9:1 positive to negative words were “flourishing,” while companies with ratios below 2.9:1 were doing poorly. Her colleague Marcel Losada discovered this fact, so they call this statistic the Losado ratio.
The bar is even higher for married couples. According to John Gottman, couples need a ratio of 5:1 for a strong and loving marriage. That’s five positive statements to every one negative statement.
Some of you might be thinking: does positivity cause success or is it correlated with success? In other words, being associated with a successful operation probably facilitates more positivity because we like winning. However, as Dr. Martin Seligman writes in his book Flourish, research in the field of positive psychology suggests our overall well-being is affected by positive or negative communication leading to positive or negative thinking.
This is not a chicken versus egg scenario. We can control our organizational culture, personal well-being and ultimately deliver successful outcomes by making a conscious effort toward positive communication. It is a choice.
The power of positivity is not only beneficial, but also contagious. Through studying psychological well-being and social resilience with the United States military, Dr. Seligman observed, “On the negative side… a few sad or lonely or angry apples can spoil the morale of the entire unit. Commanders have known this forever. But the news is that positive morale is even more powerful and can boost the well-being and the performance of the entire unit. This makes the cultivation of happiness—a badly neglected side of leadership—important, perhaps crucial…. Now we are convinced that the contagion of happiness and the powerful role of the leader make selecting for positivity and nurturing the well-being of those in command of an army unit especially crucial.” I would argue this principle applies to the leadership of any organization.
There are limits to the positivity effect, though. It only works up to a ratio of 13:1. Anything beyond that and you’ll probably want to strangle your Pollyanna-like colleagues.
The lesson here is to stay positive and be aware that the language you choose affects the success of your organization. Not only will you foster a more pleasant work environment, but a more prosperous one as well. The good news is it’s free, it’s easy, and it’s effective. Why not begin to change your culture today?
On that note, I think it’s appropriate to let the Partridge Family sing us out… Come On Get Happy!