Keep Your Praise-to-Criticism Ratio at 4:1 for a Healthy Workplace

I was once talking to a young woman and asked her if she liked her boss.

“She’s okay,” she said. “She seems to think I’m doing a good job.”

“How can you tell?” I asked her.

“Well, she hasn’t yelled at me lately,” she said.

Unfortunately, too many people have bosses like this—they never hear from them unless they do something wrong. That’s too bad. I am a firm believer in not only catching people doing things right, but praising them when they do.

I was involved in a corporate study where criticisms and praisings from managers to direct reports were tabulated and the reactions measured. The study concluded that in a healthy workplace environment there need to be at least four times as many positive interactions as negative ones between manager and direct report—a 4:1 ratio.

When there was one praising for each criticism (1:1), people perceived their relationship with their boss to be negative. When the ratio was changed and there were two praisings to one criticism (2:1), people still saw their manager as being all over them. It wasn’t until there were four praisings to one criticism (4:1) that people responded that they had a good relationship with their boss.

You know that people’s perception of criticism is powerful when it takes four positive comments to balance one negative comment. It’s pretty clear that when a leader doesn’t give a lot of praise, the people who work with them will think of them as negative and unfair. So how can you cultivate that much praise? It’s simple: catch people doing something right and give them a One Minute Praising.

In The New One Minute Manager®, my late friend Spencer Johnson and I wrote about One Minute Praisings. They work best when you follow these steps:

  1. Praise someone as soon as possible after you see praiseworthy behavior or work. Don’t save up compliments—unspoken praise is worthless!
  2. In very specific terms, tell the person what they did right—and be specific.
  3. Tell them how good you feel about what they did right and how it helps others or the organization. In other words, relate their good behavior to the broader picture.
  4. Once you’ve given a praising, pause to let the message sink in and give the person a chance to feel good about what they did.
  5. After a brief pause, let the person know you would like to see more of the same behavior.
  6. Make it clear that you have confidence in them and that you support their success in the organization.

These steps can easily and sincerely be accomplished in a minute. One Minute Praisings have a powerful impact on morale and productivity—and they are a great way to create a consistent 4:1 ratio in your organization!

The Leadership Compass

A few years ago, my good friend Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, came up with an interesting concept about how leadership is like the face of a compass, with four points—south, north, east, and west.

When people talk about leadership, they are usually talking about the compass pointing south. When you lead south, you are the leader and your job is to help your people win. Spencer Johnson and I wrote about this in The One Minute Manager. You work with your people on goal setting, praise them when they do well, and redirect them when they get off track.

When you manage north, it’s about influencing up—which is the subject of my book with Susan Fowler and Lawrence Hawkins, Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager. How do you get what you need to succeed? You must develop the right mindset and skillset to ask your boss for exactly what you need.

Then there’s leading east and west, which is all about supporting your colleagues and others in your peer group. When you know how to lead laterally and create win-win situations with your peers, it can have a very positive effect on the culture. Leading east and west is also about the mentoring that can happen among people of any rank or age as long as one person has something they can learn from another.

What’s really key to the compass analogy is what is at the center of the compass: you. The most difficult leadership challenge we all have is ourselves. Meeting that challenge begins by being self-aware. It doesn’t matter how many points we hit around the compass if we’re not strong in the middle. Take a hard look at yourself. Figure out what you need to do to be the kind of leader you want to be.

If you want to be a 360-degree leader, you need to learn how to lead in all four directions—south, where  you serve the people who report to you; north, where relationship and influence help you manage those with authority over you; and east and west where you guide and encourage your peers. And don’t forget to keep the compass point centered by knowing you are the best leader you can be so that you can maximize your influence on others.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Mentoring

Last time, I introduced you to a few of the concepts covered in One Minute Mentoring, my new book coauthored by Claire Diaz-Ortiz. The reason we call our book One Minute Mentoring is simple: sometimes the best advice you’ll ever give or receive can be communicated in less than a minute. Here’s a little story about one minute mentoring that happened to me by accident.

A few days ago, I was chatting with a young woman named Rachel who works at our company when she mentioned she is preparing to go back to college this fall. I asked her how she felt about going back to school.

“I guess I’m excited,” she said.

“You’re excited! That’s good. Any other feelings going on?” I asked.

“Well,” she continued, “to be honest, I’m also a little scared.”

“You know, those two emotions—excitement and fear—are triggered in the same place in your brain,” I said. “So if you feel fear, try to think of how you can take that emotion and reframe it in a more positive direction. For example, instead of thinking of college coursework as something to dread, I think it’s possible that you’ll find it a lot more interesting now that you’re a little older. Think of all the things you’ll learn that you don’t know yet.”

“That’s really true,” Rachel said with a smile. “So if I reframe my own thoughts I can actually turn that fear into excitement. I like that idea,” Rachel said.

“Your brain will believe anything you tell it,” I continued. “So if you keep thinking about how daunting it is to go back to school, fear will continue to be your main focus.”

“But if I keep thinking about it in a positive way, I’ll start feeling the excitement more than the fear.”

“You’ve got it,” I said.

Rachel told me later that conversation was like a light bulb turning on in her mind. In one simple conversation that took less than a minute, her perspective on going back to college changed. Rachel and I don’t have any kind of a formal mentoring relationship, but in that minute I was her mentor and she was my mentee. I didn’t even think about what I did as mentoring until a few days later.

The best part about this story is what happened afterward. Rachel said the concept of reframing a negative emotion into a positive one was so important to her that she told several people at work about our conversation—and most of them were as intrigued with the idea as Rachel was. She took that small bit of information and shared it with others. Now who is the mentor? Rachel. And the mentees are all the people she talked to about reframing negative thinking.

See how mentoring can happen in just a minute? And you might not even be aware you’re doing it. Never underestimate the power of mentoring!

Learn more about One Minute Mentoring or order your copy at Amazon.com.

The Power of Mentoring

This month HarperCollins is publishing the new book I wrote with Claire Diaz-Ortiz, One Minute Mentoring. Claire and I hope our book inspires a lot of people to get involved in mentoring, because we firmly believe mentoring relationships can change your life.

Behind every successful person, you’ll find a mentor—usually several—who guided their journey. There are many famous  mentor/mentee examples—Socrates and Plato, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey—the list goes on and on.

One of the surprise benefits of mentoring is that in many ways it benefits the mentor as much as the mentee.

If mentoring is so effective, why aren’t more people involved in mentoring relationships?

One of the biggest barriers people worry about is time. It’s true that a mentoring relationship will take a little time, but a few hours a month is not going to do you in, especially when you realize how energizing and inspiring those few hours will be. And often the best advice you’ll ever give or receive can be communicated in less than a minute. That’s why Claire and I call our book One Minute Mentoring.

So how do you find a mentor?

There’s an old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  Mentors are all around once you start looking for them.  You might find a mentor in a boss, teacher, neighbor, friend, or colleague. Or you might find one through a professional association, volunteer organization, or online mentoring organization.

That old saying works both ways—when you’re ready to become a teacher/mentor, the student/mentee appears.  We encourage people to step up and become mentors, because you won’t fully discover, appreciate, or leverage what you have until you start giving it away.

It takes time and intention to learn to drive—but once you know how, you can really go places! The same is true with mentoring.  We all have 168 hours each week. Investing a few of those hours in mentoring will energize you in a way that web surfing and TV watching never will.

Learn more about One Minute Mentoring or order your copy at Amazon.com.

Create a Workforce of Self Leaders

Leaders and managers ask me all the time how they can help their people become self leaders. It’s no secret that employees who are proactive self starters are huge contributors to organizational success. But sometimes people just don’t have the skills or confidence to get what they need to become high achievers.

That’s why I’m proud to announce the release of our newly revised Self Leadership program that I co-developed with motivation and engagement experts Susan Fowler and Laurence Hawkins. The success of your company depends on every person being empowered and committed to achieving results. Yet sometimes when it comes to training, individual contributors are overlooked. But if you don’t help them reach their full potential, your company won’t reach its potential, either.

This engaging new program is based on years of research. It teaches individuals the mindset and the skills they need to proactively take the reins, achieve their goals, accelerate their own development, and ultimately help the organization flourish. The truth is that people want to be engaged, to make meaningful contributions, and to be appreciated. And it is your job as a leader to help them be the best performers they can be.

I encourage you to take a look at the Self Leadership program and invest in the talent you already have in your company. I guarantee you’ll build an empowered workforce of people who are productive, innovative, and passionate about their work—and that passion will grow into individual, team, and organizational success.