Every leader/parent/teacher/pastor strives to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. We accentuate the positive by encouraging, recognizing, praising, and rewarding talent, effort, and achievement. We eliminate the negative by minimizing or removing negative people and negative interactions.

But with limited time and resources, which should take priority: accentuating the positive or eliminating the negative?

The result of Robert Sutton’s collation of behavioural science research is clear: It’s more important to eliminate the negative.

Sutton references Roy Baumeister’s classic paper Bad is Stronger than Good (pdf) which found:

Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good.  Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.

Sutton applies this to marriage:

Scary, isn’t it? Yet it was confirmed by several studies that, among relationships where the proportion of negative interactions exceeds this one-in-five rule, divorce rates go way up and marital satisfaction goes way down. The implication for all of us in long-term relationships is both instructive and daunting: If you have a bad interaction with your partner, following up with a positive one (or apparently two, three, or four) won’t be enough to dig out of that hole. Average five or more and you might stay in his or her good graces.

Sutton then turns to business and calls employers to remove bad apples, toxic colleagues, deadbeats (withholders of effort), downers and de-energizers (those who always express pessimism, anxiety, insecurity, and irritation).

Sure, as boss you should spread joy up to the maximum, but your main task is to bring gloom down to the minimum. Get that priority straight, and set the stage for your people to do their best work. Or pandemonium is liable to walk upon the scene.

Well, this clearly has significant ramifications for our marital, parenting, and working relationships. But what about pastoring and preaching? Is this research relevant in these spheres?

In some ways, the church is to be a haven for toxic colleagues, deadbeats, downers and de-energizers. (The disciples spring to mind). However, the challenge is to transform such (as Jesus so clearly did). And there is no greater power on earth to accomplish this than grace: “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20).

Grace makes good stronger than bad.

Grace reverses the 5:1 ratio.

  • Carine

    True! True! Thank you for all your posts- much to think and pray about.Blessings.

  • Carine

    ….and to do about.:)