Do you work in a positive organization? Think about how would you describe your workplace. Take a minute and make a list of adjectives that apply to your workplace culture including your work relationships.

Now sort those adjectives into two columns: positive and negative. If your positive pile is at least 3 times longer than your negative column, chances are pretty good that you are working for a high-performing team or organization. If the negative column is longer, your culture is probably interfering with productivity, creativity, and customer relationships.

It turns out that positivity is not just a flaky West Coast fad left over from the sixties. In fact, the research on positivity is demonstrating that a positive work culture makes a real difference to the company bottom line.

This finding has been supported in the study of high-performing teams. Marcial Lasoda studied the behavior of 60 teams as they worked on their annual strategic plans. Trained coders, watching from behind a one-way mirror, observed their interaction and categorized their dialogue. Positive speech included comments of support, encouragement, or appreciation. Negative speech included disapproval, sarcasm, or cynicism. The raters also coded for the number of times that teammates asked each other questions (inquiry) or advocated (advocacy) for various ideas.

Lasoda independently identified 15 of the 60 teams that were consistently high performers on the basis of three indicators: profitability, customer satisfaction, and evaluations by superiors, direct reports and peers. Twenty-six teams had mixed performance and 19 had uniformly low performance.

The high-performing teams had the highest positivity ratios of 5.6 as well as the broadest range of inquiry and advocacy. Compared to other teams, they were the most generative and flexible in their problem solving. The medium performance teams had a positivity ratio of 1.8. and had a narrower range of inquiry and advocacy. The low performance teams had a positivity ratio of only .4, meaning that they made more negative than positive comments.  Moreover, these teams were stuck in a narrow repetitive loop of self-absorbed advocacy and lacked behavioral flexibility.

Notice that only 25% of the 60 teams that Lasoda studied were consistently positive. This factor corresponds to the finding that only 20% of U.S. adults are consistently reporting positivity ratios of 3 or higher.

Given the simple fact that positivity feels better than negativity, why is it so rare?

One contributing factor is no doubt the high levels of chronic stress in our workplace culture. We  live in an odd time when being out of balance is considered heroic. How many times have you heard people “brag” about how many hours they work, how little they sleep, and how few vacation days they take? What many don’t realize is that the best way to get more work done is not to work longer hours.

Likewise, management that increases competitiveness, pressure, and threats of lay-offs does not result in sustainably higher performance or profitability. “Lean” management can be a very good thing when it eliminates waste. However, it goes too far when time to reflect, interact, learn new skills, and invest in personal development is considered “waste.”  Deprived of sleep, recreation, exercise, time to think and reflect, it is no wonder that workers are negative.

What can you do to increase your own positivity as well as that of your colleagues?


Both positivity and negativity are contagious. If you complain, you will probably end up hearing the complaints of others. If you begin to encourage, support, and say thank you to colleagues for their contribution, no doubt you will begin to receive more positivity in kind.

If you are in management, you have an even stronger position to leverage positivity. Your positivity or negativity will have a trickle down effect on your teams. We recently interviewed a high-performing executive who said that his own sensitivity to stress was a motivator for him to remove all forms of systemic stress from his organization wherever possible.

Is there such a thing as too much positivity?

The answer is a resounding yes! Positivity ratios of greater than 10 are associated with declines in performance. Why? Most likely because real conflict and challenge are being avoided. The members of high-performing teams are comfortable engaging in advocacy for their point of view and are open to being challenged. They pursue excellence, not false harmony. They strive to encourage each other to make their best contribution and call each other on anything less.

So, did you finish your list? What adjectives did you use? We’d love to hear you comments!



One Response to Positive Organizations: The Magic of 3:1

  1. […] negative communication has a much stronger impact than positive communication, so that it requires three positives to balance every one negative. Once your colleagues know that you respect and value their contribution, they will be more […]