The Power of Three • Part III • Executive Intelligence in Conversations

The next three posts will examine how to use each of our three brains to create powerful moves in conversation that nurture and sustain rewarding relationships and build high functioning teams.


The Critical Positivity Ratio – CPR

Barbara Fredrickson is a professor of psychology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has done extensive research on applying positive psychology at work. Dr. Fredrickson asserts that for businesses to flourish and thrive employees need to maintain at least a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative comments when talking about the company and their work. She refers to this as the Critical Positivity Ratio or CPR.


John Gottman made a name for himself early in his career thanks to his ability to accurately predict if newlywed couples will stay together over the long term after interviewing them for just an hour. Gottman’s secret is in observing how the couples respond to what he calls “bids for connection.” A bid for connection is a simple conversational move such as sharing a bit of good news. When we are offered such a bid we have two choices, turn toward the person (accept the bid) or turn away from them (reject the bid). Gottman maintains that if we want to maintain positive relationships that endure and deepen over time we need to accept (turn towards) an average of five out of six bids for connection. Gottman’s ratio of 5:1 is a recipe for rewarding personal relationships that’s slightly higher than Fredrickson’s collegial ratio of 3:1.


Shelly Gable is a professor of psychology at UC Santa Barbara. Her work focuses on motivation, close relationships, and positive emotions. Among her research findings is this interesting notion: how people respond to us when we share good news is even more important than how they respond to us when we share bad news with them. Few things are as injurious to a relationship as sharing something that you are excited about only to receive a tepid response from your listener(s). This has important implications for building and maintaining relationships.


Professor Gable’s work examines how approach and avoid strategies contribute to the unfolding and the quality of social interactions and close relationships. She has developed a quadrant model that outlines the conversational strategies people use to respond when someone shares good news. Below is a diagram outlining those quadrants.




One way we can take concrete steps towards improving our CPR is to familiarize ourselves with Gable’s matrix and cultivate the habit of responding actively and constructively.


As you can see, each box represents a move or an offer that will either nourish and deepen your relationship or corrode it and cause it to degrade over time. This is a conceptual introduction based on our head brain. The next two posts will examine this framework from the perspectives of our heart and gut brains.


Practice: For the next couple of weeks self-observe and notice how often you operate out of each of these quadrants. Your results may surprise you!