Eliminating the Negative is More Important Than Accentuating the Positive

Bad Is Stronger Than Good: The 5 to 1 Rule

Posted May 28, 2010

"Bad is Stronger Than Good" is the title of one of my favorite academic articles, which shows that negative information, experiences, and people pack a far bigger wallop than positive ones. I touched on this theme in The No Asshole Rule and dig into in detail in the forthcoming Good Boss, Bad Boss. But perhaps the most important finding for most of us is the research on romantic relationships and marriages: unless positive interactions outnumber negative interactions by five to one, odds are that the relationship will fail. Scary, isn't it?

Several studies found that when the proportion of negative interactions in a relationship exceeds this "five-to-one rule" divorce rates go way up and marital satisfaction goes way down. The implications for all of us in long-term relationships are both instructive and daunting: If you have a bad interaction with your partner, one (or apparently two, three, or four) positive interactions aren't enough to repair the damage. It apparently takes at least five -- at least over the long-term. Related studies on workplaces suggest, along similar lines, that bosses and companies will get more bang for the buck if they focus on eliminating the negative rather than accentuating the positive (although the latter is important, the best evidence suggests that more effort and resources should be focused on getting rid of bad people and experiences).

P.S. The citation is Baumeister, R.F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K.D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5, 323-370. Here is a link to the pdf

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