5-1 Ratio of Surprises

I received quite a substantive amount of messages regarding the last blog post on surprises. As folks begun to ask direct reports, and peers (and even family members) of what surprised them in the previous few weeks or months, there were predictable surprises at the surprises.

In one conversation, I shared the 5:1 Ratio. This is something I first heard about 15 years ago in the context of successful marriages. A psychologist found that couples that were happy could recall 5 positive experiences for every one negative one. Obviously the lower this ratio, the higher the degree of unhappiness and negative ratios had a huge positive correlation with divorce.

The same principle was applied to the workplace and indeed it corroborated that happier workers (who tend to be more productive and collaborative) could also recall about 5 positive surprises for every one negative one. This ratio is worth noting if you are a manager or leader. If something negative does happen to your team/staff, whether by design or unintentionally, your role should be to figure out 5 positive experiences to induce to simply get the team back on track. Clearly, these are averages and not all experiences have the same professional or emotional impact, but this should not undermine the gist of the 5:1 ratio.

Worth noting is that reacting to a negative experience is often a late-game strategy. Ideally, as a leader, you want to induce these 5 positive surprises throughout so that when negative events do occur, they occur in the bed of all those positive experiences you have already been cultivating. This week, start a plan based on the number of surprises you uncovered from your staff. If they gave you 10 negative surprises since January, then get a team together and plan for dozens of positive surprises before the end of the year!

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