There it is as one of my Notes to Self, running down the left hand column of this blog: "Be enthusiastic. It beats being critical."
Easier said than done, of course. But it raises the question of praise versus criticism and the role the tension between the two play in our relationship with our independent and grown children.
If we're always saying something is wonderful, that someone is terrific, that this is the best of all possible worlds, then how can we be taken seriously? But if we're critical scolds, who wants to hear from us no less be around us--no matter how right we may be? (See Note to Self: "It's better to be liked than right.")
So there should be a balance somewhere between the two. A recent post on the Harvard Business School blog has not only found the ratio but put some numbers on it: 5:1. That is, to bring out the best in a business work team, the most effective balance is five instances of praise or positive feedback to one negative comment. Here it is in chart form (a favorite means of HBS communication):
The blog's authors also addresses research on what the praise-criticism ratio looks like in successful marriages versus unsuccessful [separation and divorce] ones.The balance is about the same: roughly 5:1. So, if that ratio works in the work place and in marriage, why not in our relationships with our grown children.
Here's some of the thinking the praise-to-criticism blogger offers in the post:
--"Negative feedback is important when we're heading over a cliff to warn us that we'd really better stop doing something horrible or start doing something we're not doing right away. But even the most well-intentioned criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative. It can change behavior, certainly, but it doesn't cause people to put forth their best efforts.
--"[In] John Gottman's analysis of wedded couples' likelihood of getting divorced or remaining married ...once again, the single biggest determinant is the ratio of positive to negative comments the partners make to one another." For those who ended up divorced, the ratio went upside down to something like three positive comments for every four negative ones.
--The key in negative feedback is to "keep the opposing viewpoint rational, objective, and calm — and above all not to engage in any personal attack (under the disingenuous guise of being "constructive").
I read that last line and remember my mother always using a variation on the "I want to be constructive" theme before prefacing a critique, be it of my housekeeping or my children. I am so sensitive to it--just seeing the printed word makes the hair on my neck stand at mock attention--that I can only assume (hope) I don't visit that particular approach to negative commentary on those I care about--or work with. I'm just putting it out there as another Note to Self--beware the tides of constructive commentary when we go negative, as sometimes we must. That's what the ratio says!