In part, how you communicate with your employees or student-athletes helps determine how successful your team will be. Researchers have found that negative communications are three times more powerful than positive interactions, and therefore it takes three times more positive communication just to be in a neutral state. And who wants to be in a neutral state? Not your employees! Not your student-athletes! The Positive Coaching Alliance recognizes this research and encourages their coaches to communicate with a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments.
Why More Isn’t Always Better
But positive leadership isn’t all flowery and Pollyannaish. In fact, more isn’t always better. When you are too positive and gushy in your interactions, your employees can’t trust what you are saying because you are not being authentic with them. And people won’t follow someone they cannot trust. This overly positive ratio is believed to occur when positive-negative communication reaches a ratio of about 13:1 or 15:1.
Why all of this fuss over being positive? Does positivity really make that much difference? The short answer is – yes it does. Positive leaders promote and encourage a positive work environment that leads to happy employees. And happy employees have been found to be 31% more productive than unhappy employees. They produce 37% more in sales and are three times more creative than their unhappy counterparts (Lyubomirsky).
This higher level of productivity and creativity can be explained in part because when people are treated well, they tend to work harder, longer, and care more about the quality of their performance. And this translates into greater profits, more wins, and more committed people.
So what is negative communication?
There are four types of interactions that can be construed as being negative. This includes criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (Gottman). Criticism is directing fault at the person instead of addressing their action. This can lead to contempt, which can manifest itself as a person rolling their eyes, taking deep sighs, making direct attacks or being sarcastic. Criticism and contempt can lead to defensiveness where a person shifts blame or fights back. And when the communication gets severely negative, stonewalling can occur. This is where a person refuses to engage in a conversation.
But negative communication is more than just a message that is being critical or gossipy of someone. Negative communication also includes the tone in which you share the message and the message you send from your body language. This can include nonverbal communication such as the crossing of your arms, your facial expressions, your gestures, and other types of body language that can emanate negative vibes.
As a manager or coach, you sometimes need to provide corrective feedback. But this information doesn’t have to be negative. When you do provide feedback, make sure you correct the behaviors or actions that need to be changed and don’t be critical by attacking the person. Correction can be done through effective instruction. In fact, some leaders find that the “sandwich method” is an effective way to provide corrective feedback (positive comment, corrective statement, and positive comment). This is a technique that many successful coaches use.
What is positive communication?
Positive communications are not the continual use of gushy comments. Rather a positive leader communicates by being genuine, authentic, and sincere. Kim Cameron (2012) suggests that positive interchanges need to be delivered in a manner that are accurate and straight forward. That positive communication is not designed so the leader appears to be a “nice person.” Rather, this accurate and straightforward message should be delivered in a genuine and sincere way so it effectively communicates the message but also helps the recipient to feel “valued, energized, and uplifted.”
Basketball coaching great, John Wooden also communicated using more positive than negative interactions. In one of the first studies to analyze positive-to-negative communication, Gallimore & Tharp (2004) analyzed the communication of John Wooden during his final championship season in 1974-75. These researchers were trying to understand what made this coach so good. Their findings showed that Coach Wooden used praise more than criticism. But most of his communication was in the form of instruction. Initially, the researchers seemed to categorize instruction as being neutral. Years later Wooden would share that he believed that instruction is positive teaching. And he considered himself to be a very positive leader.
Positive Communication Leads to Success
The take away from all of this is that positive and instructional communication helps lead to more wins and greater success. This is because when you are positive and instructional in your communication, you create an environment where your people want to work hard for you, and they care about the outcome of their performance. Therefore, as a coach, manager, or leader you will want to communicate primarily using praise and instructional statements that are accurate, straightforward, and genuine. You will want to be corrective in your instruction without criticizing. And when you need to correct an employee or player, you will want to communicate using the sandwich method. The end result of genuine positive communication is more sales, increased profits, and more wins on the field or court.