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Recently a company hired me to speak at one of their sales team meetings, and afterwards the senior sales manager asked if I’d taken forensics in high school. Her question sparked a memory I’d like to share with you.

Although it’s been decades, I clearly remember being turned down two years in a row for a part in our high school play, quickly concluding that anything to do with the speaking/performing arts was not a talent I possessed. Surely, forensics was out of the question. However, the summer of my high school graduation, I entered the local beauty pageant (it was a big deal back in the day). The 18 pageant contestants were asked to report to the White Lake Playhouse in the little town of Whitehall, Michigan where the executive director, Grace Atkinson, would begin working to get us ready for the pageant competitions. The night of our initial meeting, she asked us to form two lines – one was the “talent” line for the girls with known talent and the other was the “no talent” line for those of us who desperately needed to “find” a talent.

Grace held private consultations with each girl from the “no talent” line. When it was my turn, she handed me a script taken from The Diary of Anne Frank and asked me to read. After a few minutes listening, she concluded that, for my talent, I would do a dramatic monologue that she’d coach me to perform.  She chose for me a script taken from H.H. Munro’s, The Open Window – a short story with the main character a girl about my age.

Grace was a wonderful actress, and I turned out to be a wonderful mimic, and as a result, the talent trophy from that pageant, which has accompanied me throughout my adult life, is now buried in a box somewhere in my attic. The Miss Michigan pageant, which followed shortly on the heels of the local pageant, provided another opportunity to present my monologue.  The night following the talent competition, three photos of me taken from the talent portion of the program were plastered across the front page of the newspaper – and underneath were the words, “Real talent!”

While grocery shopping a few weeks after the pageant, my mother ran into the high school play director, the same woman who had chosen not to cast me in the school plays because acting wasn’t my forte (she preferred I be her assistant director instead).  Seeing my mother, she said, “Gee, it seems like Mary Jane has finally come into her own,” to which my mother responded, “Mary Jane has had it all along – you just never recognized it.”  Something only a mother could say. And, oh, how I loved my mother for saying it. My mom’s words have carried more meaning than any other recognition I have received in my entire life.

Nobel Prize-winning scientist Daniel Kahneman tells us that we experience approximately 20,000 individual moments in a waking day, each “moment” lasting only a few seconds.  The moments we remember are almost always strongly positive or negative. It’s how we felt that cemented them in our memory. Neutral moments are easily forgotten, but those that evoke a strong emotion can last forever. And, a single defining moment can change a life.

According to researcher and renown psychotherapist Dr. John Gottman, an expert on marital stability and divorce prediction, couples who experience 5 positives interactions to 1 negative one are more likely to enjoy a successful marriage. The lower the ratio, the greater the chance the marriage will end in divorce.

In How Full is Your Bucket, authors Tom Rath and Donald Clifton tell us that, “workgroups with positive-to-negative interaction ratios greater than 3 to 1 are significantly more productive than teams that do not reach this ratio.”  According to these authors there does  seem to be an upper limit of anything over 13 to 1, but that’s highly unlikely in most organizations.

Based on my experience working in hundreds of organizations over the past 20 + years, I’ve found that most organizations do not have to worry about giving too many positives. The ratio of positives to negatives is distressingly inadequate, leaving significant room for improvement.

If you are a leader who wants to be an enduring influence, what kind of defining moments are you creating for your followers?  What are you doing to evoke strong positive emotions in others?  What is your ratio of positives to negatives with important people in your life?  Employees? Boss? Co-workers? Colleagues? Customers? Spouse? Children? Friends?

Today’s challenge: Keep a journal (or a log) of your daily interactions. Label each one as positive (if your interaction created a positive emotional response in the other person) or negative (if your interaction created a negative emotional response in the other person). After one week, you should have some idea as to the kind of relationships you’re creating and power of your influence.