The Nine-to-One Ratio

One of the managers with whom I work regularly, Steve, reminds me that he does compliment his employees. He does! It’s true and I hear him. The problem is, when he does compliment them, his employees are so downtrodden that they barely hear him. They are so accustomed to being ridiculed and yelled at, that there’s not trust or mutual respect. 

The nine-to-one ratio is a ratio I have developed to help your feedback be heard and valued. The ratio is not based on statistics and there’s no scientific analysis to back it up. It is, however, derived from many years of experience engaging with clients and witnessing human behavior in action.

As it turns out, I am 30% over the needed amount. According to a Harvard study, the average employee ideally needs six positive pieces of feedback for every negative review received. 

I believe that in order to accept any negative feedback, emotionally healthy people need to hear nine genuine compliments from the giver, before even one piece of constructive criticism will be accepted. Nine to one! That’s a lot. 

There are some guidelines for these compliments. First of all, you cannot rapid-fire nine random compliments in order to get to the criticism part! “I like the font you use in your documents, the way you start your emails with a greeting, your organized desk, the plant on your credenza, the picture on your wall, your coffee mug, the color of your shirt, your haircut, and your glasses. Now let’s talk about the awful job you did on your last assignment.” Instead, recognize the positives, small and large, at every opportunity.

Another ground rule is to watch out for boomerangs, or statements that start out as a compliment but are quickly undermined by a gibe. “I appreciate the work you did with our client…if only you would have worked this hard last time, maybe we would not have lost the other account.” “Thank you for taking out the trash…hopefully next week I won’t have to remind you.” Just say the compliment, and then STOP!

When we give feedback, we also want to be completely authentic. Find the things that you truly appreciate about the other person. It may seem difficult at first, but there is always something you can recognize. And when you deliver constructive criticism, consider starting with something that can be quickly and easily corrected. Some of the people in your life still may not be able to respond appropriately. The ratio might be a thousand-to-one for the short term. Recognize the situation you are working in and the person you are speaking to. 

The nine-to-one ratio isn’t just for subordinates and co-workers. Do you know that CEOs, directors, and managers of organizations often feel like no one appreciates them? And, of course, remember those people closest to you as well – significant others, children, roommates, friends, and neighbors. 

Let me know how the nine-to-one ratio works for you!

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