4:1 Is Breaking Even (Overcoming Negativity Bias in Relationships)


In a recent blog post that you can read here, the subject of negativity bias was presented.  The reality of giving extra weight to negative events is one that we cannot escape.  No amount of willpower, focus, or positivity will ever free us from this predisposition.  In the last post we discussed ways for us to manage our mental wellbeing with that knowledge.

We also must remember that everyone we deal with has the same predisposition.  However, they most likely do not have the understanding of this implicit bias.  Healthy relationships are still possible even if the other party does not have knowledge of, or even believe in, the reality of this bias.

Our thought is that if we do a positive thing, it will restore balance to the relationship. But our relationship algebra may be off.

You can better manage your relationships (work, home, church, or social) if you remember this rule… “4:1 Is Breaking Even”

When we have a negative experience in one of our relationships, we will often try to do something to make up for it.  If it is a spouse, we may try to help out with a chore, send some flowers, or pick up their favorite candy bar while you are at the store.  If it is a team member, you may find a way to praise their next effort or give them an early Friday departure.  If it is your boss, you may stay late to make up for that meeting you were late for.  Our thought is that if we do a positive thing, it will restore balance to the relationship. But, our relationship algebra may be off.

…happy couples have five positive interactions for every negative one.

According to researchers, people tend to be impacted four times as much by negative interactions as by positive.  So, if you want to break even, you have to create four positives for each negative.  In fact, according to marriage researcher and clinician John Gottman, the magic ratio for a happy couple is 5 to 1.  In other words, by his count, happy couples have five positive interactions for every negative one.

Since the negativity bias occurs in married and single people alike, this ratio is one that can be applied outside of marriage.  In any relationship, a general feeling of positivity will be maintained if there are five positive interactions for each negative one.  Depending on the relationship, these positives will vary, but be aware, you aren’t even in the boss’s eye after staying late once to make up for being late once.  And, your employee still thinks you are a jerk, even though you bought them a lunch after snapping at them for something that wasn’t their responsibility.

Understanding that people have a negativity bias is the beginning of not being hindered by it.  The next step is to be sure you are investing in positive interactions so that your relationships will not be destroyed by a few, perhaps necessary, negatives.

Keep this in mind, shoot for that 5:1 ratio, and enjoy a morale boost for your team, marriage, or social circle.

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