There’s this 3-to-1 ratio I mention a lot in my columns.
Research shows that in the workplace, it takes three compliments to one criticism for a person to feel positive about the other person. Wildly different than the 1-to-1 you may have thought before, right?
But here’s another layer to that theory: I wonder if that ratio is influenced by who provides the compliments and criticism. My gut tells me it does. Does a 3-to-1 ratio from your co-worker have a different effect than a 3-to-1 positive ratio from your boss? Likely.
This hit me recently as I rolled out the results of our annual employee engagement survey to the people in our organization who report directly to me.
During the rollout, Andrew Rothfeder, the president of Studer Properties, mentioned this 3-to-1 ratio he’s heard me use before. This being brought up usually indicates I may be a little light on the “3” and heavy on the “1.”
He also mentioned how I never miss a thing happening and with attention to detail.
“Whether good or bad,” he added.
While first I thought he was complimenting me, at second glance, perhaps not.
Here is some background on where Andrew was coming from: This past week, Studer Properties hosted an event. The event went well. However, I noticed a few items I felt could have been improved. I shared those items with him that night. And I didn’t stop with Andrew, I also shared my perception with the staff member who had put the event on for us. This was not her usual role, and it was her first time putting on an event like this.
You’re probably thinking “That’s not very good leadership, Quint.” And you would be correct. My mistake.
How could I have handled this better? I could have waited until the next day, then asked Andrew to review what went well and what were our opportunities for improvement. In most cases, the person asked comes really close to the same conclusion as their boss. A knee-jerk sharing of places to improve in the middle of the event isn’t the most effective way of communicating, and to compound the issue, the fact that it was coming from me weighed heavier on the people who tried their best.
So back to the employee survey rollout. After he said I don’t really miss anything (a compliment still, right?), he mentioned the fact that employees really don’t want to let me down, so when they do, it really feels like a big impact. (Side note: Andrew is smart in how he positions things.)
This caused me to think how I felt during my career when the “big boss” was involved. By big boss I mean my boss’s boss and any other boss above my boss on the organizational chart. I believe comments and gestures by this group have a larger impact than even they understand.
About 30 years ago I was working for a small division of a much larger organization. The corporate headquarters were in Park Ridge, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. My first year with the company I received a gift from the president of the company, and it arrived at my home in Janesville, Wisconsin.
I opened up the package and there was a card from the company president and an ornament that had the company’s logo and values. While I had never met the biggest boss, I had seen his photo in the newsletter. I hung that ornament front and center on our Christmas tree. It was a big deal to get a gift from the “big” boss, so yes, who the messenger is does have an impact, both consciously and subconsciously.
So there are cases when, yes, the feedback hits a bit harder — for better or worse.
So this weekend I thought more about Andrew’s feedback. While I may not see something as a big deal, others may see my feedback as a big deal. I spent time this weekend sending a note to all 130 employees. The subject was good news.
In this email, I listed 20 good things that have taken place in the last few months in our Studer Family of Companies. I purposely did not put anything about “but we can do better.”
Are there ways to be better? Of course. But why fill a heart with good news, then puncture it? I received great feedback from this email. Some wrote in and added to the list of other great things going on.
The pursuit of excellence is important. We know that. But the lesson here is that it’s good to smell the roses along the way.
So here’s a tip: Take time as the year ends to send a note to all of your employees and list the positives. Hang a note somewhere in the workplace listing all the good news. Encourage others to add to the list. Then build it into a regular practice in 2017.
If you are reading this, you are alive and living in the present. A present is a gift. Cherish each day. As the late sportscaster Craig Sager said in receiving an ESPY Award in 2016, “time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God, and it is not in endless supply.”
Time is simply how you live your life. Let's live to the fullest.
Quint Studer is the founder of the Studer Community Institute and a successful business leader, speaker and author. He is also the entrepreneur in residence at the University of West Florida.
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