In this episode of Relationships at Work, communications and leadership nerd (and host) Russel Lolacher shares the signs that we could be destroying a work relationship.
Based on the work shared on Adam Grant's Re:Thinking podcast of John and Julie Gottman, Russel digs into the four patterns in conflict that predict the end of relationships. He shares what those patterns look like at work and what we can do to mitigate them.
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Welcome to Relationships At Work – the leadership guide to creating a workplace we love. I’m your host Russel Lolacher
I’m a communications and leadership nerd with a couple of decades of experience and a heap of curiosity on how we can make the workplace a better place. This show is a great resource to help us with that.
Every week on the show, I talk with a local or global leader on topics that are help to you to improve the workplace. We’ve tackled so man topics: negativity, culture renovation, plain language, imposter syndrome, diversity, communication, empathy, activism, burnout, mental health, and so many other topics.
And now, as an added bonus, I’ll be sharing an additional episode pulled from the pages of our weekly R@W Note which you can subscribe to.
A quick and valuable bit of information on top of our regular show.
So the R@W Note I’m passing on to you this week, is called…
Beware the Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse
On his podcast Re:Thinking, organizational psychologist Adam Grant spoke with psychologists John and Julie Gottman on the science of healthy relationships.
They established the Gottman Institute which uses research to help relationships. They do some pretty cool work. I’ll add a link to their content in the shownotes.
On this particular show, as they normally do, they generally stick to the marital type or relationship.
But all relationships of any kind, have some common DNA.
Trust. Respect. Empathy. Commitment. Communication.
A relationship is a relationship is a relationship. That’s why this episode really jumped out at me in how it can be applied to the workplace.
In their conversation, they spoke on the four patterns in conflict that predict the end of relationships: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
Tied together, they labled them the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Look at how easily these can be applied to relationships at work:
Criticism – defined as the construction of a judgement about the negative or positive qualities of someone or something.
At work: it could be blaming a problem we share with another colleague or business unit on a perceived flaw of theirs. They don’t work fast enough, they don’t prioritize properly, they weren’t prepared.
Why not look at this as all being on the same team, having a problem we’re both there to solve?
Contempt – evoking a sense of superiority and the right to judge, amid feelings of disgust and anger.
At work: this is criticism, but with a touch of scorn, of disgust, looking down at a colleague as inferior or as having little value. We might see them as people that don’t deserve the position they’re in. Or a colleague we feel isn’t smart enough to do the same work as you.
Solution: Why not just stop. This is a check yourself before you wreck yourself kinda moment. If we want to be a great leader, we have to ask where the kindness is in that way of thinking? Where is the compassion or consideration? There isn’t. Think again.
Defensiveness – being anxious to challenge or avoid criticism.
At Work: this is bringing up your own criticisms against your boss, your colleague, your team member when you feel criticized. It’s the “oh yeah! Well…” moment. It puts up a wall because we’re not listening or receiving the information. Which could be really helpful.
A solution: Shut up and listen. Hear the words and intent behind them. Show your leadership by being mindful and considering other’s perspectives, whether they are right or wrong, they are what they feel.
Stonewalling – a refusal to communicate or cooperate. Body language may indicate and reinforce this by avoiding contact and engagement with the other party.
At work: it’s a complete shutdown of, one person to another. When they're listening to the other team member they don't give any body cues, any facial cues, any verbal cues, any words that indicate they're actually listening to the person. There’s no engagement at all.
Solution: soften up. Remember we’re all on the same side, the same team, the same organization. Or at least we should act like we are. And that means engaging, being aware of how our body reacts when others speak.
There's power in the knowledge that these can damage the connections we're working to make and nurture at work.
Knowing and understanding this behaviour in ourselves and in others is a great step towards mitigating it and responding properly to it.
Think about how you react to someone or something at work that has rubbed you the wrong way. For whatever reason. Is damaging or ending the relationship worth it within the context of the organization?
Maybe it is? But we can’t know unless we take that time to assess.
Then we can take that awareness and use it to avoid any relationship apocalypse. Which does sound better than being run over by horsemen