Quality Blog

Jim's Gems: Practice Four-to-One

February 24, 2014
In a recent quality training session, the class had an interesting discussion about the modern day work environment existing across industry segments. It reminded me of something important concerning positive and negative influences on people.  You might be interested in a portion of the discussion.

In the mid 1970’s Fran Tarkenton, former NFL All-Pro quarterback, motivational speaker, and author of several self-help books, and Aubrey Daniels at Behavioral Systems Inc. did some work on this issue.  They took the research of Dr. Ogden Lindsley, who studied the effects of positive reinforcement versus negative comments by teachers in the classroom. Dr. Lindsley found that the ideal ratio that maximized learning was 3.57 positive to 1 negative. They rounded it off and called it Four-to-One.

Managers and supervisors (not to mention parents, teachers, etc.) should pay heed to what they say and how they react to people.  We should try this little experiment to study the responses. 

For a week or so, record your positive and negative comments made to others.  Most of us will  all too often, find the ratio reversed or ONE-to-FOUR rather than FOUR-to-ONE.  In other words most of us make four times the number of negative comments to others rather than positive comments.

If your average is 3-1 or worse you should seriously consider adjusting your behavior and approach to people using simple statistical control techniques.  It is suggested to have the discipline to keep records, monitor progress, eliminate the special causes, and bring this metric into control. Once it is in control then continue to occasionally spot check to ensure the metric stays in control.

This year, try to achieve a four-to-one ratio of positive to negative interactions with your co-workers, friends, etc. This focus on positive behavior will be contagious resulting in increased morale and a more affirmative environment.  

It’ll work if you diligently and earnestly practice 4-1 every day.  No one is perfect so don’t beat yourself up when you slip back occasionally. It’ll be a positive step forward just realizing when this happens and vow to do differently next time. Try the following:


Direct your negative comments to processes or events and not to people.  Remember what Drs. Juran and Deming, two of the most influential quality gurus of modern times, said, “The management system everyone works in is responsible for 85-94% of all the things that go wrong.”  However, address positive comments to people and not to the system.   The outcome will be dramatic.


Think about it.

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