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High Performance: The Rule of 5:1

September 8, 2015 -  By

I broke the Rule of 5:1 today and was promptly called out for violating such an important principle. After eating crow and apologizing for not practicing what we preach, all is once again just dandy at Pro-Motion Consulting.

Have you ever heard of the Rule of 5:1? Probably not.

The Rule of 5:1 states that people need to hear five positive things for each negative thing. When the rule is not followed, people are less inclined to accept criticism, even if the criticism is constructive in nature. However, when people are receiving lots of positive affirmation, occasional critical comments are balanced out and easier to take. Managers who live by the Rule of 5:1 have happier, more engaged and productive people.

In my situation, I was responding to a request for feedback. The problem is that my feedback was all critical. It was meant to be helpful, positive and constructive. But it was not offset by any positive feedback. My ratio was more like 0:15. My approach caused a defensive, emotional reaction. No wonder I was called on the carpet.

The interesting part of this situation is I know better. I know about the Rule of 5:1. What about all of those leaders who have never heard of 5:1? What about you? What’s your ratio? Do you know?

The next time you give someone feedback, whether formally or informally (mine was informal), take the time to number each positive item and each critical item. I think you’ll find that achieving the 5:1 ratio is not all that easy. We tend to focus on the negative ahead of the positive. I think 1:5 is comes more naturally for most people.

Now go forth.


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About the Author:

Harwood is a Managing Partner with GrowTheBench and Pro-Motion Consulting. Reach him at He is a Landscape Industry Certified Manager, NALP Trailblazer, NALP Consultant, and Certified Snow Professional. Harwood holds a BA in Marketing and Executive MBA with Honors from Michigan State University.

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