The “Losada Line” : Mathematics of Flourishing Relationships.


What makes you like a person? Why are we attached or addicted to some people while neutral or distanced from others?

What do we experience with them to have that effect?

The Losada line (a contentious mathematical formula expounded by Dr Losada in 2005) states that for a happy and positive relationship there have to be atleast 2.9 positive interactions as compared to a negative one between two people.

After Dr Losada published the rule, it has been  contested and may not be completely true. But there is something intuitively true about it.

An interesting dynamic in relationships is that when two people meet and begin to create a bond ( could be a married couple, supervisor-employee, friends) they focus on positive feedback and interactions. That speeds up the engagement and closeness among them.

But as the relationship matures, there are conflicts, ego demands and points of view. The negative interactions go up and the relationship flattens out or sometimes slides to nowhere.

Look at your mature and/or important relationships ( spouse, parents, children, childhood friends, work colleagues) and check them for the Losada principle. Are you maintaining a healthy ratio of at least 3 positive interactions versus one negative? If not, try implementing it right away.

But how do we make the relationship truly flourish? The calculation is that at a ratio of 6:1, the relationship truly blossoms and adds significant value to your life.

So what stops us from reaching that level of 6:1  for the truly important relationships in our lives? Sometimes it’s difficult to bring up a “happy” conversation or situation as the relationship is burdened with multiple challenges. It could be a sales team under pressure to deliver targets or a couple going through marital issues. What could we do in such cases, to follow the Losada principle and sustain a positive relationship?

A few possible actions could be thus:

  1. Listen deeply : Just try to listen actively to the other person. Hold back judgments, urge to reply or form opinions. Focus on the person as they speak, noticing their clothing, voice tone, posture and feel their emotions. Just this act could be a very positive interaction.
  2. Questions :  Ask questions with genuine curiosity. A state of curiosity says ” I am interested to know your views now, and have suspended my opinions “. Ask Open questions, which allow the person to think widely and choose their replies with more flexibility.
  3. Give a “Gift” : A gift is a very broad term here.  It could be a smile, an appreciative comment,  giving your time or helping out in some work, praising in others presence, giving useful advise, a pleasant surprise event or of course, gifting an object of desire.
  4. Change the setting : A sales team going for a outbound weekend trip or a father playing a game with his son. How would that help? The mind tends to temporarily drop emotional baggage, judgements, opinions about the relationship in a new setting. This window of opportunity can be used to build pleasant memories and move into the Losada Zone.

The interesting thing about the Losada Principle is that if the ratio exceeds 11: 1, then the relationship starts deteriorating. Thus, criticism and/or conflicts are important to sustain a healthy relationship.

It also seems to indicate a brutal fact…. no relationship can be taken for granted.  Even if a relationship is bound by social ( marriage, siblings),  physical (roommates, office ), financial ( master-servant) or professional ( employer-employee) structures, it would wear out over a period of time if it is denied sufficient positive interactions

It may sound ridiculous to be counting number of positive vs negative engagements, but this principle does throw up a simple idea around building strong, happy and productive relationships. As we sense a deterioration in an important relationship, we could consciously ensure a positive engagement for the next time, so that we move to the “flourishing” side of the Losada line.

Worth a try, you would agree?

Comments and feedback are welcome !

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