Save That Negative Comment For Something That Really Matters

After a talk this week by Dr. Greg Evans, a positive psychologist, at my school I have been thinking a lot about the negativity bias. This is where humans tend to focus or pay greater attention to negative things that happen – 10 good things can happen, but they are left focusing on the 1 negative thing. We have all been there and can relate to this scenario. We also cannot ignore all negative things; however, there is a ratio of positive to negative that is healthy.

As the focus of the presentation was on relationships, Dr. Evans suggested a 5:1 ratio is often found in successful relationships. That is 5 positive interactions/comments, for every 1 negative interactions/comments. If the ratio is to high – say 10:1, this is not good either. He also suggested that we often waste our negative interactions on things that don’t matter. I have caught myself a few times since the talk considering if my comments were positive or negative, but also, if they could be persevered as negative, did I want to ‘use’ up my negative interaction on that. Was it worth it? Was there a way I could re-frame the negative interaction into a positive interaction?

As an independent school teacher, I think it is particularly important to consider the negativity bias as families are investing a significant amount of money in their children’s education. If when they think of the interactions there is a ratio of positive to negative interactions that is greater or less than 5:1 this could impact their decision to re-enroll, even though there was a significant number of positive interactions. What can I do as the classroom teacher to make sure that there is a successful relationship developed? How can I make sure that negative interactions are saved for things that really matter – not wasted due to poor communication or lack of planning?

I think simply being away of the negativity bias is the first step in recognizing the importance positive interactions play in developing healthy relationships.



  1. You might be interested in a book called Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. in which he explains how and why our brains are hard wired to focus more on the negatives and what you can do to help focus more on the positives. I have a blog post written but not posted yet on this topic as well.


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