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Suzanne Caubet

Hi Bob, One of my favorite articles too. I just completed a course in systems theory related to human resources development and I wonder if the forces of bad being worse than good is because systems that are in a positive state seek to maintain that state so they are less likely to change but when something bad happens the system seeks change. It's kind of like”lifestyle to which I am accustomed to" equilibrium, maybe a kind of mechanism that allows things to evolve into even more positive states. What do you think?

Baumeister's paper has some limitations, and I'd be cautious about interpreting the 5:1 concept as a general rule.

How do you quantify a relationship, or an experience? You would need to quantify them in order to compare the good ones with the bad ones. Just thinking of this 5:1 rule as a matter of quantities is just silly.

Imagine, for example, that my wife catches me in the arms of another woman, and she has plenty of evidence to believe that I have been cheating on her since our second year of marriage. If only quantity mattered, all I would need to do to restore our good relationship and save our marriage would be to get out of that affair, and buy her 4 roses on 4 different days.

So, if quality of experience matters also, Baumeister's 5:1 principle must mean that for every bad event of a given magnitude, 5 good events of equal magnitude OR 1 event of quintuple magnitude must happen must happen in order to maintain equilibrium.

What about continuity of experience, versus isolated events?

Take a man with near-perfect health. Every second of every day, he is enjoying the positive experience of being healthy. Lots of bad things could happen to him, it's easy to imagine all sorts of accidents or diseases.

But what good things can happen? What can possibly get better for him? Not much. To judge whether or not an accident would severely affect his happiness, you'd need to look at all the other positive things happening for him, and compare them with the "badness" of his accident.

Is that even possible? Can you compare the goodness of winning a million dollars with the badness of being diagnosed with cancer? Of course, it depends on the person's perception of these events. In fact, everything depends on perception, which adds another layer of complexity to this 5:1 rule.

My conclusion: is bad stronger than good? If you can quantitatively compare a person's perception of the badness of something with his/her perception of the goodness of something else, you might be able to answer that question. Personally, I think the question is moot, because such comparison is not possible.

Blue Girl

Because it would take five times the energy that a Hitler or a Stalin put forth to counteract the amount of negativity perpetrated by them, it would necessarily make it more expedient to eliminate the Hitler or the Stalin.

Amanda Horne

Thanks Bob - a fantastic reminder, particularly about investing efforts in removing bad people and experiences.

I attended a John Gottman workshop two years ago. Here is text copied directly from his manual:
"- Couples who were in stable, happy relationships had a ratio of positive to negative interactions of 5:1 when discussing an area of disagreement
- In his lab research, in the relationships which were happy, the ratio was 20:1 of positive to negative expressions when simply conversing
- In relationships which are not going well, the positive to negative ratio is 0.8:1"

Many thanks

Eric Jacques

Thanks Bob,

Your post got me thinking about how to use the 5 to 1 Rule for creating positive customer service outcomes.

I posted an article on my blog about it.

I'm really glad I stumbled upon your blog. I read "Weird Ideas that Work" a few years ago and really appreciated it.


Wise Step

Yes Bad is stronger than good. Agree !. However good prevails longer :)

Will wait for the release of your book "Good Boss, Bad Boss"

DC Jobs

Sounds like humans have a natural propensity to focus on the negative.


Really interesting finding, Bob. Thanks for sharing. Sounds like the Pareto principle in a different skin: ~20% of the interactions can dictate a disproportionate amount of the entire relationship state.

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