According to relationship researcher John Gottman, the magic ratio is 5:1. That is, the healthiest relationships generally have 5x or more positive interactions for every one negative interaction.
Other studies have shown that human beings have a greater ability to recall negative or painful memories than positive ones.
As I covered in The Attrition Equation, Prospect Theory would suggest that we are more commonly driven by fear of failure than possibility of success.
So what does all of this mean? On the whole, people have a bias for negativity.
An Optimistic Take On Negativity Bias
- Knowing that people have a bias for negativity could sound like a problem.
- You might want to know how we fix it.
- You might recognize it in yourself and want to change.
I want to offer an alternative perspective: The negativity bias could be one of the most valuable assets you have at your disposal, both personally and professionally.
Using The Inversion Method To Find Buried Treasure
Every customer persona exercise starts with a guessing game or research into what people like. Every focus group and customer research panel tries to hone in on what people like about a product or service. I’m not saying these are not good things to do, but it paints an incomplete picture and potentially stops you from finding your most useful insights.
The real insights can be found by flipping everything upside down.
What people don’t like (or even what they hate), can be as much of a pivotal aspect of their identity as what they do like. But what’s even more important is that by saying what we don’t like, we often reveal what we do like.
I’ll pause on that point for a moment. Did you catch it?
By taking what people say that they dislike and inverting it, we reveal an insight that we may have otherwise never found.
Problem: “I hate their ads, they are so annoying and cocky, and they don’t say what the product even is”
Solution: Say what the product is in your ad. Don’t be cocky.
Problem: “My boss is such a jerk, he never listens to my ideas and treats me like a servant rather than a colleague.“
Solution: Listen to people’s ideas, and alter your language to show respect and your actions to show care.
Problem: “I’m exhausted all of the time. I feel like I do everything around the house and my husband acts like he expects it…AND I have to make dinner after a full day of work.”
Solution: Share in the household responsibilities and take care of dinner several nights per week. Let your partner know that you appreciate all of their hardwork even after a long day.
What people like or want is often cloaked by the negativity bias. So, if people are more likely to remember the negative, more likely to talk about the negative, why not use that to your advantage?
The Magic Ratio is a Gift
Here are some ways you might use negativity bias to your advantage…
When conducting customer research, ask people more questions about what bothers them, what frustrates them, and what they hate, either about your products and services or the universe it attempts to correct.
If you’re trying to build the best company culture, ask every team member and every qualified candidate you interview what they hated about prior jobs and bosses.
If you’re in a meeting trying to brainstorm a product, build a marketing strategy, or even build your entire brand messaging architecture, start by opening the flood gates and talking about everything you viscerally dislike.
Gather these databases full of gripes, then take every statement and invert it.
The Inversion Method helped me write an entire book
In case you missed previous announcements, I have a book coming out in January 2022 called The Lovable Leader. The book is 11 step-by-step, framework-rich chapters, and clocks in at around 200 pages. The vast majority of the content is the product of the inversion method. I looked at every bad boss I ever had, listened to every gripe I’ve heard from people about work, and reviewed every study I could find about what causes us to disengage at work.
Then, I flipped it.
What was revealed helped create a handbook for new managers to build great teams with trust, respect, and kindness. It outlined the process for creating teams where care is at the center, safety is baked in to the process, and trust is the primary currency.
I hope you’ll check out my book, but more importantly, I hope you’ll begin to use the inversion method in your own life and work. By leveraging the negativity bias rather than fighting against it, you can supercharge yourself with insights to help you change the world in a way that is meaningful for you.
And if you’re interested, you can now download the first chapter of my book here.