The 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 Rule

I have this rule. I am not sure where I learned it, but it keeps people in perspective, and it saves me regularly.

I had a consultation with a leader not too long ago, and her dilemma boiled down to circumstances where she was letting a few people on her huge team affect her ability to lead. They were undermining her authority without real cause. There were often people refusing to speak to her. They also spent time rolling their eyes and spouting mistruths. Juvenile as it may sound, this is common as people align themselves with some people and not others.

Our consultation resulted in understanding and deciding how she can effectively maximize the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 rule. A quick little disclosure, this is a rule that is applicable in general. We have all met the outliers. And Yes, it is absolutely possible to manage these ratios.

If you have not heard of the rule, let me share.
  • 1/3 of the people you meet will love you completely. They are undeniably in your corner, and without a doubt, you have a friend on your side. Let’s call them group one.
  • 1/3 of the people you meet are indifferent. They neither love everything you do nor hate it. People in this group can and do see your halo and your horns. Or they don’t know you well enough to make any judgments about you at all. Let’s call this group two.
  • 1/3 of the people you meet will not like you. They may be unaware of the cause of the feeling. Following your lead is something they make challenging and call for constant disruption. Of course, this is group three.
People spend far too much time worrying about group three, the 1/3 of people that are objectionable to you. Spending time with group three people is like hitting your head against a spikey wall. I once had a coworker who openly disclosed placing me in group three after initially meeting because I was wearing a red suit jacket (no kidding). She thought I was overly dramatic and attention-seeking in that jacket. In truth, I love red, and that is all there is. I was never going to convince her differently. We coexisted at best. But there were 2/3 of my coworkers that took the time to be open to my fashion flair or were simply less concerned with what I wore then what I produced.

Are you spending time and energy to change people who cannot change?
Consider that you are very different from the people in group three. The spice of conversation is in differing thoughts. So, stop trying to change them, and try to understand them. The best strategy includes exerting energy in all groups. However, spending more time and care with the group two people, the indifferent one, is most beneficial. They can influence the cynics in a way that you cannot.

Focus on group two people. It is a bit obvious, as the first group already loves you, and the last group is clearly no fan. Every new person who comes into your life falls into group two. Many people will stay in group two, and some of them will move into other groups. A group movement comes over a little bit of time, assuming you did not bomb your first impression. The rule is applicable whether you meet someone at work, socially, or even romantically. They get to know you, and you get to know them.

Be mindful of when you meet people. Putting new people in group one too quickly gives them too much information and power. They don’t know you. You do not know them. A couple of thoughts on being mindful when encountering new or people you are getting to know.
  1. Acknowledge (to yourself) that this person is new to you, and you are reserving judgment.
  2. Smile at them!
  3. Consider them as an expert in their field, ask questions in the moment, and listen to the answers.
  4. Everyone is worth some of your time. Be patient. Passing people off too quickly sends an off-putting message.
  5. Use positive statements. “I am confident luck will come your way.” “I am optimistic that the project will be successful.” “You are so positive. Your friends must enjoy your company.”
Decisively and intentionally managing your relationships will help you improve your overall impact on people. Using the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 Rule keeps people in your life in perspective. Build good relationships by not aggravating your cynics and concentrating on your group two people. Spending time with your group one people is the reward.