How to invest in better relationships

How to invest in better relationships

Whether at home or in the workplace, sometimes it can be a challenge to maintain positive and mutually empowering relationships on all fronts. Everyone you deal with in your personal and professional life is unique, has varying needs, and makes different demands on your time and resources. Is there ever a way to please them all?

What if I told you that the key to better relationships is a simple mathematical ratio?

An Empty Piggy Bank

Have you ever stopped to count the cost of a negative interaction? Maybe it was an email, a post on social media, a comment in a video meeting or something that came out of your mouth face to face? Next time you say something negative to someone else, be mindful that it’s now going to take at least three positive interactions to neutralize the impact of that comment.

Think of it this way. With each positive interaction you make in a relationship, you get to deposit one coin into your relationship piggy bank. But for each negative interaction, you withdraw three coins. For a relationship to feel healthy, you want to make sure your piggy bank is not empty. But why should you offset one negative with three negatives?

Over centuries, the human brain has learnt to amplify negative feedback, so it’s at least three times more impactful than positive interaction. It’s evolved a survival mechanism which enables us to stay safe. A problem occurs when we get stuck in a cycle of negative interactions which persistently lead another person to feel negative emotions like blame, criticism, shame, anger, guilt, and disappointment. This in turn leads people to anticipate and expect negative interactions even before they happen.

Think about your relationships at work and home. How full is your relationship piggy bank with the different people with whom you interact?

Starting To Save

If you feel like your piggy bank is low on funds in certain important relationships in your life, then it’s time to start saving by accumulating and banking positive interactions to offset any bad investments you make. The good news is that it only takes ten seconds to start saving and deposit a positive interaction.

It could be as simple as saying “Well done” in response to a report or “What I like about that idea is…” before working on improvements. I’m sure you can think of many other ways of showing ten seconds of appreciation or gratitude.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, the hard reality is that most of us take the positives for granted with our colleagues, kids, or spouse. We assume that the other person is already aware they’ve done a good job, or that we notice and appreciate what they do.

When you don’t make the effort to donate positivity to those around you, your relationship piggy bank runs out of coins.

And that means every time you open your mouth to say something, the other person is already cringing or on the defensive because they are anticipating a negative comment.

Using the language of company CEO Shirzad Chamine, this pretty much ensures that their internal voice is set to ‘saboteur’ and not ‘sage’ when listening and reacting to you. The ‘saboteur voice’ seeks to undermine, the ‘sage voice’ serves their positive desires.

Think about your key work and life relationships. Which ones could use more positive interactions to get closer to that magic ratio of 3:1 positive to negative interactions?

Making Regular Deposits

Once you know where you need to invest, it’s time to start making more regular deposits to your relationships’ piggy bank. Today, there are more opportunities than even before to say something positive, whether that’s on the phone, in person, via video calls or through social media. And because it only takes ten seconds to deposit a positive interaction, you’ve always got time.

Got an important relationship you want to improve? Wondering how you could deposit more positive interactions in your relationship piggy bank? Here are some helpful suggestions:

  • Make time to be present with them. Look at them and listen to their needs.
  • Mention and praise of one of their strengths.
  • Acknowledge how they have helped or benefitted you in some way.
  • Say something you like about them (something you’ve not said before).
  • Do a random act of kindness that shows you care.
  • Offer positive praise with a facial expression or gesture of approval.
  • Say ‘Well done’.

Long Term Investment

So the next time you interact with an important person in your life, someone who could do with you investing some positive interaction in your relationship piggy bank, remember the ratio of 3:1. For every negative interaction you have, make sure you counteract it with at least three positive interactions.

And turn that relationship piggy bank into a long term investment.

Further Reading

  • ‘Positive Intelligence: why only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential’ by Shirzad Chamine
  • ‘The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work’ by John Gottman PhD
  • ‘The Essential Coaching Leader: The Brain-Friendly Practices for State-of-the Art Leadership’ by Patricia Burgin