Teams perform better when they have more positive interactions than negative interactions. Why? Some might assume that teams that perform well have more to be positive about, so they end up having more positive interactions. But psychologists find that it’s actually the other way around: Positivity drives performance.

I’ve been reading up on positive psychology recently to understand how leaders should communicate with their employees to drive customer experience performance. My most recent read was The Happiness Advantage by Harvard’s Shawn Achor (highly recommended). The book describes one particular concept that I find helpful in planning internal communications: the Losada Line, named after its creator, Marcial Losada.

Losada’s research has found that high-performance teams tend to have at least 2.9013 more positive interactions than negative interactions. Fall below that line and people get mired in problems. Rise above it, and they think more creatively and productively, leading to better performance. Losada has subsequently used this concept to help companies improve their business results by changing how they communicate. For example, he helped a large mining company overcome significant process inefficiencies by getting managers to look for encouragement opportunities even while the company was suffering. The group’s positivity ratio moved from 1.15:1 to 3.56:1, and its performance skyrocketed soon after.

This research has significant implications for leaders trying to steer their companies toward customer-centricity. When leaders find themselves in the middle of a social media dust-up or at the bottom of an industry ranking, the natural inclination is to sniff out problems and start fixing them. But the negative focus that follows can actually hinder performance. So how can leaders strike the right balance and stay above the Losada Line in times of trouble? Here are just a few ideas:

  • Look for bright spots in dark situations. Bad situations often aren’t all bad. Dig into customer feedback and poll employees to find out what’s working. Then highlight and replicate those things.  
  • Add kudos alerts to VoC programs. The same techniques that help firms respond to negative customer feedback also work on the positive side. Make sure frontline people are consistently recognized when they earn good reviews from customers.
  • Celebrate improvement as well as excellence. Getting good often requires getting better. Recognize milestones along the way.
  • Keep count of positive and negative interactions. When in doubt, categorize and count your interactions for a day. See what your positive:negative ratio is. Then make a plan to maintain or improve it.

What else can leaders do to keep people thinking positively and productively? What’s worked for you?