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Are You in a Relationship Apocalypse?

"Within organizations, people have to see each other as human beings or there will be no social glue." John Gottman

I was honored to be the officiant at my niece's wedding last weekend. Sarah and Logan are on track for a rich and fulfilling life together. They have loving and supportive families and have spent as much time planning and preparing for the marriage as they did in getting ready for the wedding.

Unfortunately, many people don't do that. Too often relationships are left to "just happen." It's true in marriage and even more so in the workplace. So it shouldn't be much of a surprise when relationships become dysfunctional and perhaps end in divorce in a marriage or termination at work.

Dr. John Gottman, one of the country's leading authorities in the area of marriage has identified four characteristics that from his research can be remarkably accurate indicators of whether a marriage will succeed or fail. He calls these characteristics The Four Horsemen of the Marriage Apocalypse.

  • Criticism - finding fault with someone's actions

  • Defensiveness - refusing to acknowledge your role in a situation

  • Stonewalling - silence, withdrawal, reluctance or refusal to communicate

  • Contempt - finding fault with someone's character - who they are. This is considered the most powerful contributor to failed relationships and often shows up as disgust toward another person.

Couples who exhibit these characteristics and refuse to address them have a greater than 90% chance of divorce. That seems like an obvious conclusion to me. But what about the workplace? I don't have data to back it up but I suspect the consequences at work are similar. Whether it results in someone losing their job or not, the effectiveness and productivity of the workplace is clearly impacted by the quality of relationships.

Gottman offers these simple yet effective strategies for addressing the Four Horsemen and helping to avoid the relationship apocalypse they predict.

  • Instead of criticism, learn to address concerns and to complain without blame. Do so in a way that ensures that you will be heard.

  • Instead of defensiveness learn to take responsibility, even if it is only for a small part of the situation. Don't accept more than you should, but don't accept less either.

  • Stonewalling is often an indication of feeling flooded with emotion and unable or unwilling to engage the other person. Learn to self-soothe and let your emotions subside so you can more effectively engage where needed.

  • When contempt is the problem you'll need to exercise considerable will power and find ways to build a culture of respect and appreciation.

Writing on this topic, workplace relationship mediator, Roger Beaudry, says, "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are alive and well in far too many workplaces. People CRITICIZE, become DEFENSIVE, STONEWALL and become CONTEMPTUOUS without recognizing the full impact of these toxins. As they permeate workplace relationships and destroy them, these workplace toxins undermine issue resolution and this in turn perpetuates problems and encourages them to spiral out of control. The ultimate result can be sick workplaces and a loss of productivity."

The bottom line is that good working relationships are critical to the success of your organization, whether it is a small business or multinational corporation. The strategies above are essential to your success. It won't happen overnight and may take frequent renewals of your commitment. But, compared to the alternative it will be well worth your effort.

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