10:1 ratio of gratitude to complaints for successful communication.

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10:1 ratio of gratitude to complaints for successful communication.

Years ago, when I had small children, I read about a business principle that made a lot of sense to me. Simply put, a manager was to communicate with his employees so that there was a 10:1 ratio of gratitude to complaints. This meant that the manager would air complaints with employees, but would balance this with appreciation.  Therefore,  the employees already knew that they were respected and valued because they had been regularly recognised positively. This makes it easier for the employee to take the complaint on board without defensiveness. Likewise, the impact of the manager’s complaint will be much stronger and be taken more seriously, if the complaint is a rare event.

When your boss  (or partner) appreciates you, you perform better, and you are happier.


Gratitude creates change in your brain, and in the cells of your entire body.

Dr Masaru Emoto showed that water absorbs our words and state of mind. The crystals of gratitude are very different to anger and frustration.  When we offer words and feelings of gratitude we create a tangible benefit to both ourselves and the other, right on a cellular level.


Brain studies also reveal that feelings of gratitude directly activate brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine makes you feel good and is your body’s own antidepressant. Inevitably, if you express gratitude, and generally have an attitude of gratitude, your partner will also experience an increase in dopamine.

Catch your partner out –  doing good stuff!

Another way to do this is to catch people out doing good stuff –  most of the time.  Children thrive on this approach.  We all do.

How can you apply this 10:1 ratio of gratitude to complaint in your relationship?

The Gottman’s research indicates the preferred ratio is even higher, at 20:1 of appreciation to complaint in everyday life. This is when things are running smoothly. That is twenty positive interactions for every single negative interaction!

Positive interaction includes a whole range of gestures including appreciation, gladness, kindness, mercy, joy, satisfaction, comfort, praise, affirmation of good qualities, and thanks for small (or large) acts of service. More importantly, it’s about an attitude of gratitude for the relationship itself.  It is a frame of mind.

10:1 ratio of gratitude to complaints – how to make a complaint.

Inevitably, you need to complain about something to your partner.  Sooner or later, you need to bring something up before it festers. Do you have hurt feelings?  Maybe you have taken offence over a conflict of ethics. A soft start-up works best. Use statements about your feelings, and not about your partner’s faults.

Here are some examples:

First example: “I might be wrong here, but I’ve had a strong reaction to…” (When you voice a complaint that begins with a possibility that you, too, could be wrong, your partner will be less defensive.)

Second example: “That hurt my feelings.  Can you tell me more about what is behind your action? Is there something that I am not understanding?” 

(Here you are checking if your partner was expressing something clumsily, and not intentionally wounding you.  Regardless of which is the case, your approach is inviting further conversation and mutual understanding.)

Third example: “I feel blamed. Is that what you intended?  Or have I over-reacted?”

 (Again, you are expressing how you feel, but you are also checking to see if the problem is with your partner, or with yourself.  Sometimes it is both, and this sort of approach allows for you both to contribute to a resolution).

Couples who put this 10:1 ratio of gratitude to complaints into action report an instant improvement in communication satisfaction.

Let me know how this works for you.

relationship insights

Gratitude can expand to include appreciation, gladness, joy, satisfaction, comfort, praise, affirmation of good qualities, and thanks for small (or large) acts of service.

A related Insight is managing conflict with your partner.

Copyright © Kaye Gersch 2018

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