What’s the tone of your work meetings? Positive or negative?

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Think back to the last meeting you had at work—maybe it was a planning meeting or perhaps you were going over team results.

What was the tone of the meeting?  Was it positive for the most part?  Or were there undertones of judgement?  Was there praise, or was there criticism?

Truth be told, both praise and criticism have their place in our workplace meetings– and both serve a function.  But how much of each is appropriate?  Keep in mind that we are far more sensitive to negative comments than we are to positive ones.   Insults burn hotter than praise.  Just think about your last performance review.  No matter how many accolades your boss may have showered on you… it was the “areas in need of development” portion of the review that would later stick like a splinter in your toe!  Hours, even days or weeks later, what do we remember about our review?  That one negative comment.

Now back to that meeting that I asked about at the start of this post.  Was it a good, positive meeting—or was it generally negative? Or a combination of both.

There has been some fascinating research which looks at the bottom line impact of tone (i.e. positive or negative) in our workplace meetings.  In his groundbreaking research, Professor Marcial Losada of the Universidade Catolica de Brasilia conducted a study involving 60 different management teams as they discussed their upcoming plans for the new calendar year.  Researchers recorded these meetings and later coded the words spoken in them as either “positive” or “negative.”   Losada found that the highest performing teams – the ones who were ultimately successful in the year’s business endeavors – tended to have a positive-to-negative ratio of roughly 5.6 to 1.  That means that for every one negative word uttered during the discussion, there were five or six positive ones.  Ultimately, teams near this ratio ended up achieving higher profitability and better customer satisfaction results.  Medium performing teams tended to have a ratio of closer to 2 to 1.  And low performing teams had a ratio of 0.4 to 1 – for every positive word, these low performing teams used more than two negative words.  The powerful implication here is that groups that experience and share more positive emotions are more likely to be successful.

There is, of course, a place for realistic, rational, and firm-handed guidance in the workplace.  At times, leaders have to be tough, critical, and make unpopular decisions.  Optimally, though, there will be a balance.  Ideal leadership should adopt a sensible and firm approach when necessary, but the overarching goal should remain to cultivate the kind of positive atmosphere where employees will be most likely to flourish.