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Less than a 5:1 ratio could be damaging your team dynamics

“The power of praise as a beneficial life changing reinforcer is so overwhelming that to argue against its systematic use is indefensible. Behavior-specific praise may be the most effective readily available tool to improve achievement”

-        Stephen Flora in The Behavior Analyst Today

Origins of the 5:1 ratio

The 5:1 ratio of positive and negative interactions, also called the ‘Magic Ratio’ was first identified by Dr John Gottman and Robert Levenson during a longitudinal study of couples back in the 1970’s.  After nearly a decade of studying relationships, they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which would divorce with over a 90% accuracy, based on a 15-minute assessment.  How? Their discovery was a relationship ratio, that happy relationships balance more positive interactions during conflict than those with unhappy relationships.  The ‘magic ratio’ was 5 positive interactions for every one negative one, the 5:1.


“When the masters of marriage are talking about something important,” Dr. Gottman says, “they may be arguing, but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections.”

-        The Gottman Institute


Sounds like these interactions are also built upon foundations of trust and psychological safety, that the criticism or negative engagements do not shake the relationship to the ground, as they’re built on solid foundations of positive intent, positive confirmation, positive interactions and consistently reinforced over time.

In Gottman’s research, he calls out key positive interactions, that flourishing relationships regularly use to maintain positivity and closeness:

1.      Be Interested

2.      Express affection

3.      Demonstrate they matter

4.      Intentional appreciation

5.      Find opportunities for agreement

6.      Empathise and apologise

7.      Accept your partner’s perspective

8.      Make jokes


Applying the Gottman ratio to the workplace

Researchers looked at whether the Gottman 5:1 ratio was applicable to workplace relationships, and they found, yes it does.  Evaluating the effectiveness of 60 leadership teams, they found the most effective factor that impacted the most successful teams from the least successful teams was the same, a balance of positive comments given to participants / team members versus negative comments.  The ratio in this study came out as 5.6:1, remarkably like Gottman’s findings.

“The takeaway, for both leaders and peers, is simple: If you want to be part of a high-performing team, pay attention to how much praise and positivity you’re doling out. If your ratio is below 5:1, you may be damaging the effectiveness of your team.”

-        Gail Golden, MBA, Ph.D. in Psychology Today


Are your people leaders and teams equipped to thrive through strong team dynamics, where constructive criticism is a tool that encourages high performance due to the 5:1 ratio?  Built upon the strong foundations of trust and psychological safety, educating teams and leaders on the ‘magic ratio’ can empower them to thrive, grow and continuously improve whilst maintaining a shared purpose and strong team dynamic.

Talk to TrustWorki today about our Team Dynamics initiatives including:

  • Building foundations in Trust and Psychological Safety

  • Upskilling teams to exercise radical candour

  • Understanding the magic ratio, to deliver 5:1 ratio in positive interactions to every one negative interaction

  • Allowing teams to utilise effective communications





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