Quantity and Quality in Human Interactions

Tom Rath, in his new book Are You Fully Charged?, identifies three keys to operating at peak performance:

  • Meaning
  • Interactions
  • Energy

One of these might be surprising. “Interactions” is defined in this book as “creating far more positive than negative moments.” Often we think about the big picture in relationships. Is our spouse satisfying our emotional needs? Where is our relationship with a partner going? Are we as close to our kids as we want to be?

But Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman found that each of us has about 20,000 moments each day — 20,000 experiences identified by our brains as complete experiences. John Gottman found that married couples who have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences together are more likely to have successful marriages. And now researchers are finding that positive daily interactions with others can make almost as big a difference to our sense of well-being as the big-picture relationship questions that take a lot of work and time to resolve.

Depending on your job, your family situation, and whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you may spend your day surrounded by people or you may spend most of your time alone. Either way, you need to have more positive interactions than negative ones. Gottman’s research showed that 5:1 is the magic ratio for married couples, but more recent research brought Rath to conclude that a 4:1 ratio in all our interactions every day is what we must have to feel fully charged. 80% of the interactions we have with others must be positive to keep us feeling positive.

So if we know there’s a tough meeting coming up at work, we should stoke up on positive experiences by spending some quality moments with family before heading for the office, checking in with supportive colleagues, and even getting coffee from the friendliest place we know. Who knows? The meeting might not turn out as tough as we expect, since we’re fully charged with positive moments.

Beyond that, we can also make an extra effort to provide positive moments to others. Being the kind and patient customer or giving a child a hug instead of a “Hurry up!” can change someone else’s day.

Important, complex relationship issues need work and time. In the meantime, keep that 80% in mind.