“Do you have any fashion tips for me?” Jimmy Fallon recently asked his Tonight Show guest, Project Runway mentor, Tim Gunn. Gunn’s response:
“I love your suits. I love the fit of them. You are classically handsome. You have a great physique. You are the funniest person I know. I want you to have fun with your accessories like your tie. Try more colors. Really play it up. I’d love you to try a pocket square…”
Gunn’s feedback is an excellent example of the “Magic 5:1 Ratio” that psychologists and successful sports coaches believe is the best way to offer constructive feedback. The Magic Ratio simply means that a leader or coach should offer five areas of praise for every one criticism or correction. Legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson once said a professional coach might be able to get away with a 3-to-1 praise to criticism ratio for elite athletes, but others need to hear at least five.
Back to Tim Gunn, who appeared on The Tonight Show to promote Season 16 of Project Runway. He praised Fallon on five qualities before offering a suggestion for improvement:
1). I love your suits.
2). I love the fit of them.
3). You are classically handsome.
4). You have a great physique.
5). You are the funniest person I know.
Research shows that giving positive comments improves a person’s emotional state, which makes them more receptive to suggestions. At Gallo Communications, our body language expert—a psychology instructor— gives critique by highlighting “strengths” followed by “areas for growth.” She believes that all individuals have strengths as communicators, and often these strengths are innate. When people are made aware of their strengths, their confidence grows and they are more receptive to change and improvement.
A research paper published in the Harvard Business Review studied sixty teams on measures of effectiveness. “The factor that made the greatest difference between the most and the least successful teams was the ratio of positive comments to negative comments,” the study concluded. “The average ratio for the highest performing teams was 5.6, that is, nearly six positive comments for every negative one…the average for the low performing team was almost three negative comments for every positive one.”
Once again, we’re back to the magic 5:1 ratio. The Harvard study concluded that successful leaders offer five or six positive comments for every one criticism.
I first heard about the Magic Ratio from sports psychologists at the Positive Coaching Alliance, an organization that works with youth sports coaches. If you’d like more examples of how to implement the ratio effectively, the PCA offers short training videos that demonstrate the method. You can see that it doesn’t take a great leap to adapt the approach from a sports field to a business setting. After all, we’re still dealing with human beings working together as a team.
Whether your goal is to win a game or win a business deal, the principles of human achievement still apply.