Asking Positive Questions / The 5:1 Positive to Negative Dialogue Ratio

Are you asking questions the wrong way?

I did – just there ☝️.

Have you ever had to make a tough business decision? Maybe it was about a big business expense or a commitment with long-term repercussions. How did making that decision make you feel?

Chances are, like most solopreneurs and small business owners, you felt more pressure and dread than excitement. Tough decisions often get a bad rap, and it’s not hard to see why—they can be stressful and scary! The good news is that as the captain of the ship at your own small business, you can change your perception of tough decisions AND cultivate a positive frame of mind in any sticky situation, once and for all! But how?

The Importance of Positive Questions

Much of the success of decision-making comes down to creating an environment in which you ask positive questions.

As opposed to what? Negative questions?

Yes, exactly!

Here’s an example of a positive question vs. a negative question:

How could I benefit from decision X?


What could go wrong from decision X?

Taking the positive route can help steer you in more fruitful directions. But don’t just take our word for it. A study published in the journal American Behavioral Scientist found that high performing businesses not only ask lots of questions, but they also have a 5:1 positive to negative dialogue ratio. This means they make 5x as many positive statements as they do negative statements. How awesome is that?

Forbes thinks it’s awesome! Asking questions and being more positive than negative drives high-performing businesses because these behaviours make knowledge-sharing possible, build strong relational connections, and ultimately generate performance success. Now who doesn’t want a business that accomplishes all of that? Right!?

So, without further ado, here are three reasons why you need to ask yourself positive questions and incorporate the 5:1 positive to negative dialogue ratio into your everyday business life, especially when dealing with clients.

1. Ask Positive Questions To Stimulate Learning

When I am performing my best, what makes it possible?

Isn’t that such a good question? Trust us—ask yourself that question the next time you’ve accomplished a milestone. You’ll think of so many great specifics that can help set you up for repeated success. For example:

When I’m performing my best, I have dedicated time to focus without interruptions. My mind is at ease because I’ve delegated non-urgent tasks to my Virtual Assistant so I know those tasks will get done and I won’t have to worry about them. I’m well-rested and I’ve had a healthy breakfast so my mind is sharp. My desk is clear and uncluttered. I have an organized project plan and timeline that I’m able to follow to stay on track. Etc.

See how asking that one positive question can help elicit lots of specific and helpful ideas that you can use for future planning? The question also helps you to keep a positive mindset and the answers can help you achieve your next goal!

Also, notice how the question is in no way negative. Many people ask the inverse (e.g. “What am I doing wrong? How do I put a stop to it?”), but when you put the focus on what’s going RIGHT in your business, the equation flips and you can generate many more helpful solutions. Positive questions draw out answers that address how your company can do more of the positive stuff, but better.

2. Use Positive Questions to Shape the Future

Picture this: You have a big client who makes up a large part of your client base. The client tells you that they’re planning to grow and they want to make your services a larger part of their strategy moving forward. Would you be interested in adapting your current business practices to accommodate their business plans?

This example can give you a lot to think about. Would you consider changing your business to follow this opportunity?

Ask yourself: What would be the benefits of following this opportunity? There could be more steady business, which could mean more money and security. You could perhaps grow with the client’s company, learn from the experience, work with more interesting people, and branch out into areas that you might not usually touch in your current business activities.

You might also ask yourself: What benefits are there to the way my business is currently structured?” Perhaps now, you benefit from receiving your income from many different clients (rather than putting all or most of your eggs in one basket) so that you aren’t too dependent on just one main source of income. Maybe the way that your business is operating right now gives you an enjoyable level of variety and freedom.

Asking positive questions and examining all of the possible positive scenarios can be much more effective than worrying about all of the negatives. If you looked at this offer from a negative perspective, you might wonder about all of the disadvantages and what might go wrong, which could breed fear and insecurity. Positive questions are always the way to go and can help shape positive future business decisions.

3. Inspire Energy and Action with Positive Questions 

Seeing as how the questions we ask can influence the future, why not try asking questions structured around what you want more of? For example, you could ask your clients or your VA, What are your hopes and dreams for taking your performance to the highest level?

Wow, what a powerful question! It might not seem like an easy question to answer straight away because it’s so loaded with possibility, but it’s that exact possibility that opens up doors.

These types of questions result in energy and action that can help move you and your business in the right direction. Positive questions lead to positive visualizations, which lead to positive action!

The Example of Tim Ryan

There are many reasons why asking positive questions and making more positive statements are worthwhile activities for your business, but here’s one last example we totally love about how powerful positivity can be:  

Tim Ryan is the CEO of PwC. As a new CEO, Ryan began a firm-wide conversation about race, bias, diversity, and inclusion. Inspired by the experience at PwC, Ryan started to ask positive questions in conversations with executives outside his company. His energy as well as the questions he asked inspired other CEOs. The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion alliance was born out of these questions, and not even one year later they held their first summit! The alliance, now the largest of its kind, has 400 CEO members who are committed to its pledge. Wow! That’s the power of positive questions.

So, what are you waiting for? How might you be able to incorporate the power of positivity into your business? Tell us in the comments below.  

Related Article: The Importance of Asking Questions

Meet your host

Sandra Booker, Founder of Changemaker Inc. (home to Sidekick COO and The VA Studio) and creator of Scale Society and The Advisory Board, is a mentor, Fractional COO  and growth strategist. She specializes in helping overworked, overwhelmed, multi-hatted entrepreneurs become the CEOs of sustainably scalable, and powerfully profitable businesses. 

After helping local businesses thrive, and receiving accolades in her community (like the 40 Under 40 award) Sandra turned her attention to the world of online service providers, and her clients include familiar names like Chanti Zak, Tarzan Kay, and Laura Belgray.

In her (efficiently used) spare time, she teaches others how to build and grow their own 6-figure virtual assistant practices and is on a mission to create a million jobs by helping her clients and students scale their businesses.

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