A quick psychology lesson… negative emotions narrow the options for human behaviour (i.e. fight or flight) whereas positive emotions widen the array of possibilities available to you and your people. The Broaden and Build Theory asserts that positive emotions were central to human survival and are considered a significant factor for our existence today. This is very important to business because according to Broaden and Build, the effect of positive emotions is cumulative over time resulting in greater wellbeing, better health and stronger social connections, as well being more resilient, more knowledgeable and more effective.

You want more people who are positive? It's simple. Take control and provide more positive experiences relative to negative ones. Your people need more of it. Every word you speak and every emotion you express induces either a positive or a negative experience. Be attentive to your leadership style. Speak and act in ways that are supportive, encouraging and appreciative rather than disapproving, sarcastic or cynical.

While the jury is still out on the optimal ratio of positive to negative emotions, we know that when individuals and teams flourish, they have significantly higher measured ratios of positive to negative emotion. The research does indicate there is level of negativity that serves as a healthy ingredient to maintain a solid grounding in reality. Without some negative, people tend to operate through rose-coloured glasses which ultimately diminishes performance, be it individual or team.

Higher positivity ratios equate with human flourishing. Flourishing is associated with behaviours that are non-repetitive, innovative, highly flexible, and dynamically stable. Essentially, your people are able to effectively operate amid the complex order of chaos, versus being constrained by the rigidity of narrow thinking.

Further, the researchers concluded human flourishing is characterized by:

  • goodness - happiness, satisfaction, and superior functioning
  • generativity - thought and behavioural flexibility
  • growth - gains in enduring personal and social resources
  • resilience - survival and growth in the aftermath of adversity

Preliminary research suggests the ratio is in the range of 3-11 positive experiences for every negative experience. However, the methodology used in the research is in question and so scientists are back to the drawing board to better understand how we process experiences within the dynamics of complex organizational settings.

Regardless, your job remains pretty simple… ensure your people get what they need... and they need to experience more positive than negative. Be mindful of your words and make a commitment to take an extra 5 minutes each day to create some more positive by expressing your gratitude and appreciation to your people.

Reference: Fredrickson, B.L., Losada, M.F., “Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing” American Psychologist, October 2005, 678-686