The 5:1 Ratio

By TrickMyMind | August 12th, 2021

What is it?

The 5:1 ratio is a simple concept that explains why we view things as positive versus negative.  For something or someone to be viewed positively, there must be 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction of equal weight.  The exact number for the ratio can be debated, but the concept does provide a solid foundation for how we view things.  It also determines how we ourselves are viewed.  Intuitively we understand this, but it is usually not at the front of our thoughts.  For instance, you may have heard the below phrases before.

• First impressions matter the most.
• That person isn't that bad after you get to know them.
• Every time they call me, it's never for anything good.
• Wow, they did that?  That's not like them to do that.

• Every time I go near it, something bad happens.
• I used to hate it, but now I'm coming around to liking it.

When you hear phrases like the above, the 5:1 ratio is coming into play and oftentimes the threshold is being crossed.  It happens without us being aware of it.  But once you do become aware of it, you can then understand why a person's perception is the way it is, and how it can be changed.

Becoming Aware

Applying the 5:1 ratio in life is very simple after you become aware of it.  It all comes down to consciously balancing the number of positive to negative interactions.  Many times, you will find that you have an imbalance to the negative side.  Below are some questions to get you thinking about your relationships and their current ratios.

1) Friendships
• Do you mostly contact friends when you need something...or do you call just to see how they are doing?
• Flipping the question, do you have a friend that only seems to call when they need something?
• Are you generally more supportive of your friends or do you often negate what they say?
• Is there an activity that you normally do with your friends, that you (or they) are getting less enthusiastic about doing?

2) Parenting
• Do you mostly interact with your kids when there is a problem...or do you set aside time to interact with them throughout the day/week?
• In total, how many "no" interactions do you have with your kids compared to other interactions?  Are you below the 5:1 ratio?
• When you are interacting with your kids, are you on your mobile device, and half ignoring them...or are you giving them your full attention?
• Have your kids said something like the following to you, "You never let me do anything fun."

3) Management
• Do you mostly interact with your direct reports when there is a problem...or do you set aside 5-10 minutes a day to discuss other things?
• Do you say "hi" to your direct reports every day...or is your first interaction when you need something?
• On the flip side, do your direct reports only contact you when there is a problem, or do they contact you just to chat?

4) Relationships in General
• Do you talk in a more positive tone?  What is your ratio of positive to negative comments?
• Are the circumstances under which you normally see someone positive or negative?
• Looking to repair a relationship that you damaged?  Estimate the latest number of negative interactions and multiple by five.  That is the breakeven point where the other person might start changing their perception of you.

Keep these questions in mind next time you are interacting with your friends and family, and you will realize why certain relationships are skewed to the positive or negative.  More importantly, you will know how to improve them using the 5:1 ratio.

Last Updated: October 30th, 2022