Understanding Good Relationships within Leadership.

Balancing the needs, desires of others with our own often feels like a difficult task.
Balancing the needs and desires of others with our own often feels like a difficult task of balance.

This week the class is exploring how, what, why and when personal relationships form, are sustained, break and then need to be repaired.  I enjoy teaching this unit as it relates to students in ways that other topics just don’t, plus, there is a real working world need to have a great and comfortable understanding of how personal relationships work.  There is so many ‘personal life’ moments spent dealing with the lack or presence of personal relationships that everyone could use a little meta-cognitive presence in order to better navigate the waters. As, I have begun to teach and explore these topics with students, I have seen how little practice and understanding many of my students don’t have in regards to, again, a very large portion of future time, energy, money and possible anxiety. I approach the topic with these enduring questions:  1. How does confidence affect the attractiveness of a person, how does it affect how attractive you feel.  2. How can you control and work with the Four Horseman of the relationship Apocalypse to better your life?

Learning to communicate, learning to motivate, learning to deal with conflicts.

These topics easily cross over to leadership and self-awareness as many leadership roles require a greater deal of emotional investment, manipulation/motivation and clear communications.  Students grapple with the topics and then are given time to practice both the issue and it’s antidote with a classmate during the class time. Students can get the feel and tone right, they can experience the emotion in a safe setting that might allow them a bit more ease in comprehension. I use the research and methods created by the Gottman Institute.  They used thousands of hours of clinical  and longitudinal studies to deduce the most common relationship issues, traps and communication styles.  This unit serves as only an introduction to a more in depth study, training and style of communication.  The students have expressed that just knowing the names and techniques of conflict resolution help them with current and future relationships. From The Gottman Relationship Blog:

….we taught you how to recognize The Four Horsemen in your relationship. In today’s posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to continue The Four Horsemen series by sharing Dr. Gottman’s methods for eliminating The Four Horsemen in your relationship. These methods will help you to down-regulate escalating quarrels, label destructive patterns, and manage The Four Horsemen using their antidotes.

Even the most successful relationships have conflict. Our research has shown that it’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship. We say “manage” conflict rather than “resolve,” because relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects. The first step in effectively managing conflict is to identify and fight The Four Horsemen when they arrive in your conflict discussions. To do otherwise is to risk serious problems in the future of your relationship. Below, we share antidotes for fighting off The Four Horsemen in your relationship: 

Criticism: A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, while a criticism attacks the character of the person. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame. Talk about your feelings using I statements and then express a positive need. What do you feel? What do you need?

  • Criticism: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.”
  • Antidote: “I’m feeling left out by our talk tonight. Can we please talk about my day?”

Defensiveness: Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that being defensive never helps to solve the problem at hand. Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying, in effect, the problem isn’t me, it’s you. As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.

  • Defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late, it’s your fault.”
  • Antidote: “Well, part of this is my problem, I need to think more about time.”

Contempt: Statements that come from a relative position of superiority. Some examples of displays of contempt include when a person uses sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eyerolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce and must be eliminated. The antidote is building a culture of appreciation and respect.

  • Contempt: “You’re an idiot.”
  • Antidote: “I’m proud of the way you handled that teacher conference.”

Stonewalling: Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. The antidote is to practice physiological self-soothing. The first step of physiological self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion. If you keep going, you’ll find yourself exploding at your partner or imploding (stonewalling), neither of which will get you anywhere. The only reasonable strategy, therefore, is to let your partner know that you’re feeling flooded and need to take a break. That break should last at least twenty minutes, since it will be that long before your body physiologically calms down. It’s crucial that during this time you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation (“I don’t have to take this anymore”) and innocent victimhood (“Why is he always picking on me?”). Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music or exercising.

In one of our longitudinal research studies, we interrupted couples after fifteen minutes and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking about their issue again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction more positive and productive.

This video from the Gottman is a fantastic resource to aid in identifying the ‘horseman.’

Then there is a slight promotional video which animates the types of relationship conflicts.

The last ‘horseman’ stonewalling, benefits from a bit more explanation.  There is a really nice WNYC Radio Lab segment that gets behind the psychology and physiological aspects of stonewalling called emotional flooding.  There are validated research theories about flooding and its effects on men and women that are helpful for students to understand. The portion that directly deals with emotional flooding begins from the start to around 14:58 minutes into the show.

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