Seven to One

Recently I was talking with a friend about the rule of seven to one:  For every one negative statement we make to someone we need to make seven positive statements.  Why?  Because people remember negative comments more than they remember positive ones. This rule holds true for personal and professional relationships.

The positive statements must be authentic.  In other words empty flattery is ineffective.  And far more useful than a general statement like nice job or good work is something specific like I appreciate your thoroughness on this project or Your creativity in finding new research really helped us.  These statements indicate exactly what you appreciate and reinforce positive behavior.

In personal relationships it can sometimes be more challenging to find positive things to say on a regular basis.  It’s not that there are no positives (usually).  It’s just that we are busy and the familiarity of a close relationship can sometimes make us a bit sloppy in the appreciation department.  But here’s the thing; once you start telling someone exactly what you appreciate and value about her or him you will start to notice these things more often, and so it becomes easier to find nice things to say.

So here’s a little exercise:  Take a moment and think about ten things that you value about someone who is close to you.  You might, for example, appreciate his or her knowledge of current events, style of dress, kindness to animals, remembrance of people’s birthdays, dedication to their work, cooking, or sense of humor.  Think about what you appreciate and write it down.  Now resolve to say one a day over the next ten days.

Hopefully the next time you are getting ready to be critical of someone this exercise will help you remember to ask yourself how many times in the recent past you have told that person something authentically positive.  Seven-to-one.  Give it a try.

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