The Magic Ratio you Should Employ to Ensure Success in your Relationships at Work, School, and Home
When we think about the little people in our lives who are already faced with fighting larger battles than we will ever know, empathy and compassion kick in, urging us to be diligent with our word, lean in closer with our hearts, and to listen carefully with our ears. Even so, we find ourselves, especially as parents, employers, teachers, and educators having to give feedback, on a regular basis, about behaviour, performance, and effort.
I’ve always struggled with this. How do we hold space for and build up children and individuals who struggle with their identities, home lives, and mental health, while upholding our responsibilities as educators to hold them to high expectations?
I remember a particularly challenging student I had who must have experienced nothing but negative interactions throughout his day. He would literally arrive at school buzzing and had such a difficult time settling into any routine. He was disruptive. He struggled academically. He could be very rude. He had a soft heart with rock hard armour and he would launch into fight-mode so as to preemptively ward off perceived threats at the drop of a hat.
The cumulative daily burden of the chastising by his parents and family, thwarted peer-to-peer connections, and the negative comments coming from teachers and principals must have been a heavy load to bear by the time this boy went to sleep at night. It often weighed heavily on me that I could be contributing to his negative self-concept with my own demands on his behavior. I couldn’t help but think about the compounding negative effects of his mostly negative exchanges day-over-day, week-over-week, month-over-month, and year-over- year. No wonder so many of our struggling, at-risk students lose their curious spark and love of life by the time they leave us in Grade 12. So many of them have received consistent messages telling them that no matter how hard they try, they will never be good enough, never measure up, never amount to anything.
So, like many dedicated educators I know, I tried my very best to maintain positive interactions with him frequently throughout the day, no matter the kind of day he was having. Sure, I had no choice but to correct him often, but it was my mission in life to ambush him with love and respect during our time together. And, I always accepted and celebrated approximations of desired behaviour! As a result, 8 years later, he still visits my classroom, lamenting that our time together had to come to an end.
Whenever I think of this student, or many like him who have followed in his footsteps, I wonder how to offset the negative feedback we have no choice to provide from time to time. Boundaries have to be set and reinforced, even in a loving environment.
I recently stumbled upon a study done by relationship researcher Dr. John Gottham which really got me thinking. I guess I had never thought of my interactions in such a data-oriented way, but it made me wonder if perhaps I had adhered to a proven ratio without even knowing it.
According to Gottham, there is a scientifically proven 5:1 ratio of authentic positive to negative interactions that exist within effective, healthy relationships. This means that for every one negative feeling or interaction between individuals, there must be five positive feelings or interactions. In other words, “unless positive interactions outnumber negative interactions by five to one, odds are that the relationship will fail.”
What if it was this easy? What if we could be a little more aware of our positive to negative interactions, keeping Gottam’s rule in our head as we do so? How might our classrooms cultures be different? How might we feel knowing that most of our interactions were positive?
We all know that successful educators are effective because of the relationships they build. So, I would argue that if we want to be successful as parents, teachers, employers, and even spouses, this ratio should stay at the forefront of our minds.