Quick question: What’s the best way to get a team to succeed? Constant praise for a job well done or a healthy dose of tough love?

You’ve probably been in environments where you’ve experienced both. And for years, people have argued about which one gets better results. Well, according to a new study in the Harvard Business Review, both types of feedback play a key role in truly successful companies. The key is the ratio of positive to negative.

The study surveyed 60 business leaders and measured their organizations’ success in terms of financial gains, customer satisfaction, as well as feedback ratings among team members. The crux of the finding is this:

The factor that made the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams, [the researchers] found, was the ratio of positive comments (‘I agree with that,’ for instance, or ‘That’s a terrific idea’) to negative comments (‘I don’t agree with you,’ ‘We shouldn’t even consider doing that’) that the participants made to one another. (Negative comments, we should point out, could go as far as sarcastic or disparaging remarks.) The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6 (that is, nearly six positive comments for every negative one). The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9 (almost twice as many positive comments than negative ones.) But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.

The entire article is worth a read, but the basic idea is this: Negative feedback can be motivating and push people to achieve better results, but too much of it tips your chances for success in the opposite direction. For the best results as a team, it should be doled out in limited doses, and in an environment in which team members otherwise support, respect, and encourage each other.



What do you think? Do you work better in an environment with mostly positive comments?


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