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The 5-to-1 Principle For Giving Feedback

A few years ago, I attended a conference on Leader As Coach, facilitated by Mark Rittenberg, Founding Director and CEO of Corporate Scenes, an international communication consulting firm based in Berkeley, CA. Mark has done extensive research on what people want the most at work and here’s what he shared with us. At work, what people want the most is:

  • To be seen
  • To be heard
  • To be recognized
  • To make a contribution

Think about these four desires. Through asset-based thinking, you can be the type of inspirational leader who delivers on all four of these desires, and by doing so energizes and motivates the people you work with to higher levels of performance. The ABT five-to-one principle for giving feedback is all about unleashing the strengths in other people for powerful results.

5 to 1 ABT Performance Feedback

Over 20 years ago, world-renowned psychologist John Gottman, PhD discovered that the secret to a great marriage was a five-to-one ratio of positive-to-negative commentary. He and his team of observers were able to predict with over 90% accuracy which marriages would survive and thrive simply by counting the ratio of positive-to-negative comments.

Since this five-to-one ratio was such a powerful indicator of successful marriages, I wondered if it could predict the outcome of other types of relationships. What if leaders spent five times more intention and effort on praising people for their proficiency and progress than they did on criticizing poor performance? At the Cramer Institute, we have been coaching leaders on how to do just that for over 20 years and the results have been astounding.

When Giving Feedback To Team Members

  • Speak concretely about five things you admire about the person.
  • Emphasize what is going well and where you see their potential.
  • Link your praise to the skills and effort (the “assets”) that are driving the results you want.
  • Keep the discussion of the person’s shortcomings (the “deficits”) to just one specific criticism.

Remember – constructive, improvement-oriented critiques are only helpful when they are within the context of appreciative, strength-oriented feedback. This ABT practice provides the necessary foundation for capitalizing on the strong suits of your team members while encouraging their improvement in one well-defined area.

Dr. Kathy Cramer

Kathryn D. Cramer, PH.D.
Founder and Managing Partner, The Cramer Institute