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Nominated by About.com for "Relationship Blog of the Year" 2012 & 2013. The Gottman Relationship Blog provides practical tools and skills to strengthen relationships, all based on 40+ years of research performed by Dr. John Gottman.

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  • 03/27/13--15:32: Spring Clean Your Marriage

  • Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’d like to share an excellent article written by our friend Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT, titled “Get Out The Broom...8 Ways To Spring Clean Your Marriage.” We love these suggestions for reinvigorating your relationship and putting the focus back on you and your partner this Spring! We’d like to add that it is absolutely possible (and realistic) to work on these things 365 days a year. We know that this sounds overwhelming. It doesn't have to be.

    As our research shows, the happiest couples build romance everyday in the smallest, most seemingly insignificant moments. Keeping your romance aflame is not about dedicating all of your time to your partner. It is about nurturing a strong connection by turning towards each other, staying emotionally engaged, showing each other fondness and admiration, building bridges, and knowing and loving each other all year round. For more on staying emotionally connected, see our blog post, Magic Five Hours A Week! And now, we give the virtual floor to Lisa:

    Get Out the Broom...8 Ways to Spring Clean Your Marriage 
    Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT
    Tools for marriage, relationship and emotional health.

    Having an hour more day light and feeling spring in the air (in Northern California anyway), I can’t help but think about the meaning of spring. For many it’s a time of renewal and recharge, a sleepy-eyed yawn and waking up from a winter slumber of sorts. Many clean their homes, their cars and their work environments.

    Marriages can also “fall asleep” and get into a rut. So let’s dust out the cobwebs and do some spring cleaning there too!

    Take a walk down memory lane. Do you remember when you met? Can you recall what drew you to each other? Take some time to reflect upon this time. Research shows that happier couples are the ones who can recall pleasant earlier memories. It can be an anchor for the relationship, a reminder of what you might have forgotten. ”Oh yea, that’s what I fell in love with…”

    Get back to checking in. At one time you likely talked a lot, especially in the early stages of your relationship. As time goes on and life gets peppered with kid related responsibilities, family, social obligations and work, it’s easy to let the communication between you and your spouse get tossed out the window. Re-prioritize a daily relationship check-in, even if brief. ”How are you?…How are we?…Is everything ok?”

    Look under the carpet for hidden resentments. One problem that can be a consequence of insufficient communicating in marriage is the build-up of negative emotions towards each other. If anger, disappointment or sadness go unchecked they can become toxic. Resentment can undermine the very fabric of the relationship. If there is something bothering you, bring it up. It’s useful to begin with “I statements” rather than using attacking language.

    Check your assumptions. What if what you were upset with your partner because you misunderstood what he/she said or meant? What if you never clarified this? Well, you’d be suffering for no reason. One of the best ways couples can avoid distress is to simply ask the other what they meant rather than assume you know. Otherwise, you will likely have a negative emotional response towards him/her, followed by a negative behavior – and all for nothing.

    Create happy memories. If boredom, “same ‘ol, same ‘ol,” and a lack of fun has permeated your marriage, it’s time to have positive experiences together to lay down over the other. It’s kind of like the negativity bias of the brain; the more you internalize positive emotions, the more you can ease your brain away from the negative. Plan date nights, go out and play, take a walk or do something totally new and invigorating.

    If you broke it, fix it. We all make mistakes and can inadvertently hurt our partners. The important thing for the health of relationships is taking ownership when it’s appropriate. John Gottman, PhD refers to successful repair attempts as “the happy couple’s secret weapon."

    More gratitude, please. There is a lot of research out there now on the power of gratitude, individually and in relationships. Express appreciation for each other when possible. Notice the good rather than focusing on the not so good. It’s easy for couples to slip into negative cycles together. Make the effort to shift to a more positive (and reinforcing) cycle of support and gratitude for each other.

    Take it up a notch if needed. If your marriage feels particularly “dusty” and in need of some TLC, get proactive and get access to the many tools available to help couples do just that; a local marriage weekend workshop or going through a marriage

    It would be nice to imagine being able to do these things 365 days a year but this probably isn’t realistic for many. At the very least, adding your marriage to your spring cleaning to-do list every year is one consistent way to put the focus back on you and your partner again. If you’ve slipped up and “fallen asleep” during the winter, you can get back to prioritizing your marriage again…and maybe make up for some lost time.

    _________________________________

    If you have gotten in the habit of sticking a band-aid over problems that have built up over the Winter, now is your chance to heal any remaining wounds - to patch them up, make peace, and restore your relationship to health.

    Remember that “Spring Cleaning” your relationship is a process – a deep clean, if you will. It requires patience, commitment, and hard work from both you and your partner. Don’t start wielding the feather duster to attack the cobwebs while looking under the carpet for hidden resentments, or make ambitious plans to renovate the entire house! Take your time. Know that “slow and steady wins the race.” Be gentle with each other.


    If you are finding it difficult to get the conversation started, there is no better place to "Spring Clean" your marriage than our Art & Science of Love Couples Workshop. Learn how to foster respect, affection, and closeness; build and share a deeper connection with one another's inner world; keep conflict discussions calm; break through and resolve conflict gridlock; and strengthen and maintain gains in the relationship. If you have a strong relationship, this workshop will provide you with insights and tools to make it last. If your relationship is distressed, this two-day workshop will provide a road map for repair. Reserve your seat today here before it's too late.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In Wednesday's posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we shared Lisa Brookes Kift’s excellent suggestions for reinvigorating your relationship in her article, “Get Out The Broom...8 Ways To Spring Clean Your Marriage.” We also shared a helpful infographic on our Facebook page. In today’s Weekend Homework Assignment, we continue our discussion of spring cleaning your marriage by offering our own practical advice that you can try with your partner this weekend! As these have been drawn from Dr. Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Workand The Relationship Cure, we should note that there are many, many more activities like these available to you. Check out his many books on our website to gain access to a wealth of relationship knowledge. 

    Below you will find Dr. Gottman's research-based suggestions for ways to build on Lisa's 8-step model. We have also provided methods (with helpful links!) to avoid experiencing such a deep clean altogether. 
    As long as you regularly give it a gentle polish, your relationship will shine on its own! Take some time this weekend to try these activities with your partner: 

    Take a walk down memory lane. 
    Conduct your very own Oral History Interview!

    Get back to checking in.
    Check in with each other on a daily basis, and make time regularly for longer conversations about potential stressors in each other’s lives. Listen to your partner and be supportive. Hereis an exercise that the two of you can try, which will help you to talk about the stress that is being caused within your relationship.

    Look under the carpet for hidden resentments.
    Though you may feel exasperated with each other at times (don’t worry, we all do), make sure that you don’t amplify the problem by attacking each other from the get-go. By approaching conflicts gently, you significantly increase the likelihood of resolving them healthily and productively. We call this Soft Startup.


    Check your assumptions. 
    Don't get tripped up in those frustrating mixed messages, don't jump to conclusions - see “Fuzzy Bidding” - and watch out for messages you may not even know you’re sending to your partner!

    Create happy memories.
    Every moment of emotional connection in your relationship can an opportunity to create a happy memory. From the little interactions we share daily with our loved ones (morning coffee, grocery shopping, driving to school, eating dinner) to important celebrations (birthdays, anniversaries, religious holidays) we can make each other smile.

    Remember one of the most vital determinants of health in a relationship –
    Turning Towards – and make sure to catch those Sliding Door moments. Create shared meaning in celebrating life in your own way

    If you broke it, fix it. 
    Remember to Repair and De-escalate! And when you are Moving Forward, ask yourself the following questions: How did I get into this muddle in the first place? Why didn’t our conversation go well? What is the meaning of the issue between my partner and I? What are the sources of our gridlock on this subject?


    More gratitude, please. 
    Share fondness and admiration, and your Emotional Bank Account will grow, strengthening your connection!

    Take it up a notch if needed. 
    Show your partner affection and appreciationIf you show your love, trust and intimacy will naturally follow!

    Have a lovely weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Dr. Gottman’s groundbreaking research with couples has allowed us at The Gottman Institute to apply his work to a much broader spectrum of human relationships. His findings can teach us a great deal about building and maintaining healthy connections with our families, friends, and even coworkers!*

    In the next three weeks, we will cover an area in which relationship dynamics can dictate your degree of professional and financial success, and even determine whether or not your career dreams are fulfilled. Without further ado, we bring you Dr. Gottman on The Workplace!

    In his celebrated book, 
    The Relationship Cure, Dr. Gottman writes:

    Paying attention and turning towards one another’s needs clearly has a positive impact on workers’ lives and the organizations that employ them. Studies show that an employee’s perception that he or she works in an emotionally supportive environment increases job satisfaction, lowers stress, decreases the likelihood of quitting, and improves team performance. Yale University researchers who conducted a study of service workers found that workers’ ability to talk with one another about their stress helped them to cope, and even protected them against health risks. Another one of their studies showed that work groups’ performance suffered when members didn’t communicate well or didn’t pay attention to one another’s feelings, or when individuals became so controlling that they didn’t allow others to contribute. I contrast, when people in these work groups got along with one another, the positive results were synergistic – that is, peer in the group motivated each other to do better, and the sum of their combined efforts ended up being greater than if each person had been working alone.”

    In fact, as some of you may know, there is an entire field dedicated to the study of workplace dynamics called
    Industrial and Organizational Psychology (or I-O for short). In this field, organizational citizenship behaviors ("OCBs”), having been shown to be beneficial to both organization and team effectiveness, are measured based on 5 factors: Altruism, Courtesy, Sportsmanship, Conscientiousness, and Civic Virtue. It comes as no surprise to us that all of these qualities relate to emotional intelligence of employees with regard to their coworkers, in much the same way as other organizations - groups of friends, couples, and families.

    In the next few weeks, we will share with you Dr. Gottman’s advice for building better emotional connections in coworker relationships, reveal common mistakes we make in the workplace, myth-bust old notions of “correct” professional behavior necessary for moving ahead, and introduce you to the real path towards achieving success in the business world.

    On Wednesday, we will share a fascinating article from the Harvard Business Review, describing research on workplace dynamics that almost exactly replicates our discovery of the 5:1 positivity to negativity ratio (read more about 5:1
    here and here). This Friday, our Weekend Homework Assignment will give you skills for Turning Towards your coworkers to build successful and long-lasting relationships in your workplace.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff


    *DISCLAIMER: Dr. John Gottman has spent the past 40 years researching relationships, primarily focusing on married couples. He has also studied families, parents, and children. He has not performed research on workplace relationships. To help increase efficiency and productivity of workplace teams, we will be putting his proven findings on intimate relationships in conversation with journal and news articles from the field of Industrial and Organization Psychology. His concepts discovered to be true in intimate relationships - the 5:1 ratio, for example -  have shown to apply to professional relationships as well.

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    As promised on Monday, today on The Gottman Relationship Blog we would like to share an article recently published in the Harvard Business Review that references Dr. Gottman's research. It describes a study that investigated the effectiveness of 60 strategic-business-unit leadership teams at a large information-processing company. Their findings echo our discovery of the 5:1 positivity to negativity ratio (read more about 5:1 here and here). So, what can business teams learn from successful couples?

    The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio
    by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman

    Which is more effective in improving team performance: using positive feedback to let people know when they're doing well, or offering constructive comments to help them when they're off track?

    New research suggests that this is a trick question. The answer, as one might intuitively expect, is that both are important. But the real question is — in what proportion?
    The research, conducted by academic Emily Heaphy and consultant Marcial Losada, examined the effectiveness of 60 strategic-business-unit leadership teams at a large information-processing company. "Effectiveness" was measured according to financial performance, customer satisfaction ratings, and 360-degree feedback ratings of the team members. The factor that made the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams, Heaphy and Losada found, was the ratio of positive comments ("I agree with that," for instance, or "That's a terrific idea") to negative comments ("I don't agree with you" "We shouldn't even consider doing that") that the participants made to one another. (Negative comments, we should point out, could go as far as sarcastic or disparaging remarks.) The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6 (that is, nearly six positive comments for every negative one). The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9 (almost twice as many positive comments than negative ones.) But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.

    So, while a little negative feedback apparently goes a long way, it is an essential part of the mix. Why is that? First, because of its ability to grab someone's attention. Think of it as a whack on the side of the head. Second, certainly, negative feedback guards against complacency and groupthink.

    And third, our own research shows, it helps leaders overcome serious weaknesses. The key word here is serious. Our firm provides 360-degree feedback to leaders. We have observed among the 50,000 or so leaders we have in our database that those who've received the most negative comments were the ones who, in absolute terms, improved the most. Specifically, our aggregate data show that three-fourths of those receiving the lowest leadership effectiveness scores who made an effort to improve, rose on average 33 percentile points in their rankings after a year. That is, they were able to move from the 23rd percentile (the middle of the worst) to the 56th percentile (or square in the middle of the pack).

    A few colleagues have raised their eyebrows when we've noted this because we're strongly in the camp that proposes that leaders work on their strengths. How do we reconcile these seemingly contrary perspectives? Simple: the people who get the most negative feedback have the most room to grow. It's far harder for someone at the 90th percentile already to improve so much.

    But clearly those benefits come with serious costs or the amount of negative feedback that leads to high performance would be higher. Negative feedback is important when we're heading over a cliff to warn us that we'd really better stop doing something horrible or start doing something we're not doing right away. But even the most well-intentioned criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative. It can change behavior, certainly, but it doesn't cause people to put forth their best efforts.
    Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they're doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity. Perhaps that's why we have found with the vast majority of the leaders in our database, who have no outstanding weaknesses, that positive feedback is what motivates them to continue improvement. In fact, for those in our database who started above average already (but are still below the 80th percentile), positive feedback works like negative feedback did for the bottom group. Focusing on their strengths enabled 62% of this group to improve a full 24 percentage points (to move from the 55th to the 79th percentile). The absolute gains are not as great as they are for the most-at-risk leaders, since they started so much further ahead. But the benefits to the organization of making average leaders into good ones is far greater, because it puts them on the road to becoming the exceptional leaders that every organization desperately needs.

    As an interesting aside, we find it noteworthy that Heaply and Losada's research is echoed in an uncanny way by John Gottman's analysis of wedded couples' likelihood of getting divorced or remaining married. Once again, the single biggest determinant is the ratio of positive to negative comments the partners make to one another. And the optimal ratio is amazingly similar — five positive comments for every negative one. (For those who ended up divorced, the ratio was 0.77 to 1 — or something like three positive comments for every four negative ones.)

    Clearly in work and life, both negative and positive feedback have their place and their time. If some inappropriate behavior needs to be stopped, or if someone is failing to do something they should be doing, that's a good time for negative feedback. And certainly contrarian positions are useful in leadership team discussions, especially when it seems only one side of the argument has been heard. But the key even here is to keep the opposing viewpoint rational, objective, and calm — and above all not to engage in any personal attack (under the disingenuous guise of being "constructive").

    We submit that all leaders should be aware of the ratio of positive and negative comments made by their colleagues in leadership team meetings, and endeavor to move the proportion closer to the ideal of 5.6 to 1 — by their own example.
    __________________

    It is always fascinating (and humbling) for us to see our research applied in new ways. This Friday, look forward to a Weekend Homework Assignment for some helpful tips on making your workplace relationships closer, stronger, and better than ever!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

    PS: We made a BIG announcement on our Facebook page this afternoon! Did you hear the good news?


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    Happy Friday! In today's posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to share a list of suggestions from Dr. Gottman for building better emotional connections in coworker relationships.  Turning towards your peers in these informal ways is likely to make a huge difference, both in your work environment and in the way you feel about your colleagues, which will ultimately increase your productivity and efficiency as an employee!

    Bidding and responding to bids for emotional connection is probably not an explicit requirement of your job description. And yet, if you work with other people, you undoubtably need these skills to form effective relationships with your coworkers. Much of the work of emotional connection happens in informal ways, in the way we talk with one another as we congregate around the coffeepot or share information before the meeting starts. 

    Things to do for your coworkers: 
    • When you go for a snack or a cup of coffee, offer to bring something back for someone else.
    • Say hello when entering the office and goodbye when leaving the office every day.
    • Share information that’s vital to both your jobs.
    • Turn away from your work and look at the person who’s talking to you.
    • Say thank you.
    • Return favors.
    • Return things you borrow.
    • Minimize distractions so your coworkers can concentrate.
    • Turn down music if someone asks.
    • Refrain from wearing perfume/cologne if someone is allergic to it.
    • Look for things to appreciate in others, creating a climate of appreciation on the job.
    • Remember his or her birthday with an email or card.
    • Send a note of praise to your coworker’s boss acknowledging a job well done.
    • Offer similar praise at staff meetings for hardworking peers.
    • Notice photos, signs, posters, and other personal expressions in your coworker’s environment. Ask about them. Listen.
    • Decorate your own environment with things that matter to you, if possible. Let this be a way of helping others to get to know you.
    • Take photos at work just for fun, and post them, if possible and appropriate. Make copies for the people who appear in photos, or tag them on Facebook!
    • Ask your coworker why he or she chose this job. Listen.
    • Ask your coworker about his or her goals and aspirations. Listen.
    • Remember personal things about your coworker and refer to these in future conversations.
    • If you have resolved a conflict, recall the resolution in the future.
    • Pay attention to your coworker’s special interests and needs. Honor them.

    Feel free to share this list with your employees, team members, and supervisors. Try a few of these activities and check back in a few weeks to see how they pay off, and make sure to pick up a copy of Dr. Gottman's  The Relationship Cure to find many more helpful tips, tools, and activities for strengthening your professional relationships.

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff


    Source: Gottman, John M., and Joan DeClaire. The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Relationships. New York: Crown, 2001. 290-306.

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    “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
    - George Bernard Shaw
     
    Whether this quote makes you smile or cringe, it is likely to resonate all too well. We can all remember times when we have completely misinterpreted the words of others, and discovered just how much this kind of mistake can cost.  In the words of L.M. Montgomery, “Most of the trouble in life comes from misunderstanding - it's dreadful what little things lead people to misunderstand each other.”

    It is so easy for us to misconstrue the intentions of others, misread their signals, and base our actions off of an entirely wrong idea. The same words can be used to communicate a great variety of different messages. A speaker’s tone, facial expression, body language, and other nonverbal cues must be used to distinguish between a multiplicity of intentions – and we all know how impossibly frustrating this can be! In the workplace, mistakes can come at a very high price.

    In today’s posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to share an activity that you can use to your advantage, allowing you to learn to avoid the consequences of unnecessary misunderstandings. Dr. Gottman has created the following exercise to help you sharpen your emotional communication skills:


    Exercise: The Emotional Communication Game With Coworkers
    To play the game, silently read each item and its three available interpretations. Then take turns reading the items aloud, as the other person tries to guess which of the three meanings you are trying to convey.

    1. Did you get it done?

    a) You’re pleasantly surprised that the task seems to be finally completed.
    b) You’re worried that your colleague didn’t do what he or she promised to do.
    c) You’re just asking for information.

    2. Are you going to the staff retreat? 

    a) You’re not sure if you’re going to go and are trying to decide.
    b) You think your colleague should go and not be so isolated from other people at work.
    c) You’re simply asking for information.

    3. I completed seven units yesterday by myself.

    a) You’re proud of the amount of work you’ve accomplished on your own and you’d like to be acknowledged.
    b) You’re angry that you didn’t get more help from your coworker.
    c) You’re not feeling one way or another about the workload; you’re just giving a tally of what you accomplished.

    4. Who’s going to take responsibility for this project?

    a) You’re tired of taking the lead on projects you do together, and you want your colleague to do it for a change.
    b) You’re just asking for information about whose turn it is.
    c) Your colleague just naturally takes over. But this time you’d like to have a chance to show what you can do when you’re in charge.

    5. What should we do about including Jane on this project?

    a) The two of you want to do the project alone together without having to think about the composition of the work team.
    b) Jane is not very competent and is dragging down your team’s performance.
    c) Jane would be a real asset, and you’d very much like to have her on the team.

    We hope that this exercise helps you to gain a better understanding of just how easy it is to misinterpret the words of others. A subtle change in body language, tone of voice, or eye contact can make all the difference. Apply your understanding from this exercise the next time you're at work. Pay close attention to your coworkers’ nonverbal cues and intonations in speech. You may be happily surprised by how well you are able to communicate!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff



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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue The Workplace series by sharing an exercise to help you understand how your past may affect your connections with coworkers.

    Like all relationships, your bonds with coworkers may be affected by your emotional heritage - your family's attitudes toward emotional expression, their emotional philosophy, and the enduring vulnerabilities you may retain from past injuries. People's work relationships may also be affected by traumatic incidents that occur inside or outside the family. It's important to be aware of your emotional heritage and how it can affect your current work life. 

    Exercise: How does your past influence your connections with coworkers?

    Consider the following emotions: 

    Pride            Compassion            Anger            Sadness            Fear

    Answer the questions below, thinking about each emotion separately. Note: This is a long exercise – unless you have a great deal of time and patience, it may be better not to attempt to complete it in one sitting! We suggest that you start with the emotion that you have the most difficulty with experiencing or responding to.

    • How does your comfort level with this emotion affect your ability to get along with coworkers?
    • When you experience this emotion at work, are you usually able to express it in a productive way?
    • Do you feel that your coworkers understand how you are feeling?
    • Do you feel guilty or self-conscious expressing this feeling?
    • Are your coworkers likely to turn toward you, away from you, or against you when you express this emotion?

    Now think about how comfortable you feel when you recognize these emotions in your coworkers.
    • How does your comfort level with your coworker’s emotions affect your ability to connect with him or her?
    • Do you feel that you’re able to empathize with your coworker when he or she is feeling this way?
    • Do you feel embarrassed, frightened, or angry when your coworker expresses this feeling?
    • Are you likely to turn toward, turn away from, or turn against your coworker when he or she expresses this feeling?
    • How could you and your coworkers do better at responding to one another’s feelings in the workplace? Is this something you can discuss as a group or with an individual coworker or supervisor?

    Consider the ways in which past difficulties have made you vulnerable. What are some of your enduring vulnerabilities?
    • How do your enduring vulnerabilities affect your ability to connect emotionally with your coworkers?
    • Do you feel that past injuries interfere with your ability to bid for emotional connection with coworkers? In what way?
    • Do you feel that past injuries interfere with your ability to respond to coworkers’ bids? How so?
    • Do past injuries ever get in your way of your ability to feel included at work?
    • Do past injuries interfere with your ability to express or accept appreciation at work?
    • Do you sometimes feel that you’re struggling too hard to control your coworkers because you feel vulnerable?
    • Do you sometimes feel that you’re struggling too hard to resist being controlled by coworkers because you feel vulnerable?

    We hope that considering these questions will help you to gain some insight into the way in which your relationships with coworkers are affected by feelings that you have about your interactions in the workplace. Understanding the underlying causes of your emotional reactions can help you to stay in control of negative emotions and to learn ways to cope with them when they come up! This will greatly reduce misunderstandings, arguments, and hurt feelings that are damaging to a productive, professional environment.

    This Friday, look forward to an exercise designed by Dr. Gottman on connecting with your coworkers, and stay tuned for our wrap up of The Workplace series next week with a deeper look at Shared Meaning at work.


    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    As promised on Wednesday, today on The Gottman Relationship Blog we’d like to share a list of activities that you can do with your coworkers! These activities are designed to give you an opportunity to grow closer with people in your work environment, whether this desire stems from a wish to establish a connection or to strengthen a pre-existing one. 

    Things to Do With Your Coworkers:

    • Go to lunch
    • Take a coffee break
    • Host a potluck
    • Take walks
    • Join a gym
    • Go out for drinks or coffee after work
    • Swap recipes
    • Swap information about other shared interests (music, politics, sports, etc.)
    • Take a class or workshop relevant to your job
    • Take a class or workshop on stress management or healthy lifestyles
    • Take a class or workshop just for fun
    • Volunteer for a community project
    • Join a professional association and go to meetings and conferences together
    • Start a group at work related to a common hobby such as hiking, theater, reading, or bowling
    • Plan your work group’s holiday party
    • Plan a celebration for another coworker who’s retiring, having a baby, getting married, or has won an award, etc.
    • Swap resources for child-care
    • Go get a flu shot
    • Go shopping at lunch
    • Organize a blood drive
    • Commute together

    Take some time to consider these suggestions this weekend! Turning towards your coworkers frequently, offering support, and displaying respect, interest, and warmth can make or break positive dynamics in your workplace environment. Think about the people you see at work – is there anyone you’d like to spend time with? All of these activities are great ways to form or strengthen emotional connection in the workplace, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to come up with your own ideas!

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Building on last week's discussion on The Gottman Relationship Blog of maintaining a 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity (referenced by CNN in this article on Sunday), we will spend this week exploring shared meaning in the workplace. We will provide tools to find shared meaning in your relationships with your coworkers, giving you the opportunity for greater reflection on a subject that is often ignored.

    Emotional connection requires finding common ground with other people, discovering shared values, and realizing that you derive meaning from the same types of activities. Additionally, it's about honoring one another's dreams and visions. We believe these things are as true in coworker relationships as they are in our marriages, our friendships, and our bonds with our kids and relatives.

    In his book Principle-Centered Leadership, author Stephen R. Covey expresses how important it is for people to believe that their jobs are worthwhile. "People are not just resources or assets, not just economic, social, and psychological beings," Covey writes. "They are also spiritual beings; they want meaning, a sense of doing something that matters. People do not want to work for a cause with little meaning, even though it tapes their mental capacities to their fullest. There must be pressures that lift them, ennoble them, and bring them to their highest selves." 


    What happens when coworkers discover that they derive a shared sense of meaning from their jobs? They connect emotionally, which leads to stronger and more productive professional relationships. They're more willing and able to work through conflicts that arise, solve problems together, and get things done.

    Today we would like to share an exercise developed by Dr. Gottman to explore the meaning you derive from your work. Make sure that you set aside an uninterrupted block of time (when you are feeling up to it!) to go through these questions.


    Exercise: What Does Your Job Mean to You?

    Here’s a list of questions to consider in your relationships with coworkers. Answering them may help you to clarify issues related to trust, competition, closeness, and so on. As this type of exercise does with other relationships, it may also help to identify what you have in common with your coworkers in terms of your goals, values, and what you find meaningful in life. Discovering common ground in these areas may help you to establish stronger emotional connections, resulting in a better working relationship.

    You can answer these questions on your own to gain insight into your perceptions of your relationships on the job, or, if you have one or more coworkers with whom you share a great deal of trust, you can study these questions together and share your answers with each other:

    • What does your job mean to you? What does it mean to you to provide your service or product?
    • What does it mean to be a good coworker?
    • What qualities go into creating a good work environment? Does you current job feel that way to you? If not, how could things change to make it feel that way?
    • What does it mean to be a part of a team? What are the costs and benefits of knowing that others rely on you to do your job well?
    • Are there things you’d like to change about the way you and your coworkers relate to each other? What changes would you like to make?
    • What role do ethics play in your job? What does it mean to do your job in an ethical way? What does it mean to treat your coworkers ethically?
    • What’s the most important thing you’d like to accomplish in your current job? How are your current relationships with your coworkers helping or hindering you?
    • What are your future career goals? How do your current job relationships affect your ability to achieve these goals?
    • How important to you is recognition? How do you like to be recognized and appreciated for a job well done (by your coworkers? by your boss?)
    • How is your job performance evaluated? How is that evaluation process communicated to you? What do you like or not like about this process?
    • Should people set different boundaries for friendships they form at work? If so, what should these boundaries be? Under what circumstances might those boundaries be crossed or changed?
    • What is the role of intimacy in work-related friendships? How much sharing is enough? How much is too much?
    • What about confidentiality among coworkers? Should coworkers have stricter rules about telling and keeping secrets than other kinds of friends have?
    • Should coworkers be able to count on one another for emotional support in times of stress? If you’re having a bad day, should you keep your feelings to yourself or tell others and ask for their support?
    • How important is it to find a balance amid the demands of work, friends, and family? Should the job be made family-friendly to help achieve that balance?
    • What is the role of fun in work-related relationships? Is it okay to be playful or silly on the job?

    Take some time to consider these questions, and any others that may come up as you read through the list. Thoughts? Reactions? Join the conversation on our Facebook page


    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

    Source: Gottman, John M., and Joan DeClaire. The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Relationships. New York: Crown, 2001. 299-301.

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to share an article referencing Dr. Gottman's research that was recently published in the Harvard Business Review. We feel that, given our current The Workplace blog series, it is imperative that you read it! Though Pozen’s intended audience is one of business managers, his advice is applicable to any employer or employee. After all, our bosses are not the only ones who provide us with feedback. Feedback is constantly being exchanged (directly, indirectly, verbally, nonverbally, officially, and casually) between everyone in the workplace.

    The Delicate Art of Giving Feedback 
    by Robert C. Pozen
    Harvard Business Review

    To be an effective manager, you need to be skilled at giving out both praise and criticism. While praise is easy to give, it is far more challenging and unpleasant to criticize your employees. Yet the practice of management requires you to occasionally show employees where they need to improve. Thus, it is vital for managers to learn how and when to give negative feedback.

    The first thing to realize is that people generally respond more strongly to negative events than positive ones. In other words, we are usually more upset about losing $100 than we are happy about winning $100. In fact, in an influential book, John Gottman (now a Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington) suggested that positive interactions must outnumber negative interactions by at least five to one in order for a marriage to succeed.

    This observation is also true in the workplace, as Professor Andrew Miner (then of the University of Minnesota) and colleagues discovered in a study published in 2005. They recorded employees' moods several times each day and, each time, asked them if any events (such as a positive interaction with a co-worker) had occurred within the past few hours.
    Their results showed that employees reacted to a negative interaction with their boss six times more strongly than they reacted to a positive interaction with their boss. This suggests that negative feedback can have significant adverse effects on an employee's well-being — and, presumably, their productivity.

    What does this observation mean for managers? Put simply, managers need to be cautious before criticizing employees.

    To start with, you should avoid inadvertently criticizing any of your employees. For instance, if an employee writes a first draft of a written document, some managers might want to suggest some minor revisions even if the draft was generally good. In these situations, managers should clearly communicate that their revisions are merely suggestions coming from a second pair of eyes — and that they aren't criticizing their employee's performance.

    More generally, managers need to weigh the tradeoffs involved in making negative feedback. If you criticize your employees, you will likely provide some corrective information, but you will also put your employee in a bad mood. If an error is so inconsequential that the corrective value of criticism is low, it might make sense for you to keep that feedback to yourself.

    Of course, there are situations when a manager must provide negative feedback. On these occasions, don't lose sight of your purpose for offering that feedback: to improve the employee's performance going forward. As much as you might want to excoriate your employee for what you believe is a spectacularly awful performance, your business gains nothing from it.

    In fact, shaming your employee is likely to have substantial negative effects on your business. In research reported in HBR, Christine Porath and Christine Pearson found that many employees considered themselves to be on the receiving end of workplace incivility, such as overly harsh criticism from their boss. According to their research, nearly half of these employees decide to intentionally decrease their productivity.

    Instead, in order to obtain the desired corrective effects of negative feedback, you should take steps to soften the emotional blow. You want your employees to focus on the message that you're trying to convey, rather than any intense negative emotions.

    At a bare minimum, make sure to deliver your criticism in private. There's nothing more humiliating than being criticized in front of your co-workers. And it is critical to keep your tone collaborative. Make clear that your employee still has your support and your respect.
    One strategy for providing feedback is to start by literally saying, "Let me provide you with some feedback." That statement lets the employee prepare emotionally for what you're about to say; in my experience, it also seems to activate the calm, rational part of the employee's brain rather than the defensive, emotional part.

    Negative feedback is a key tool in the effective manager's kit. But you must use it wisely and carefully, or else they will do more harm than good. Focus on potential future improvements, instead of dwelling on past errors. And think twice whether an error truly requires negative feedback: criticism can have an unexpectedly large impact on an employee's happiness and productivity.

    And this approach should be generally reversed when it comes to praise. Unlike criticism, managers should bestow their employees with praise generously, publicly, and at every opportunity — especially at the culmination of projects. While most bosses seem to think that they dole out praise by the dozen, I rarely meet an employee who feels that the boss sufficiently values his or her achievements. So, as often as possible, tell your employees how much you appreciate their commitment and hard work.

    ____________________________



    Questions? Comments? Feel free to join the discussion on our Facebook page. See the original article here. For more on the 5:1 ratio, look here and here!

    Happy almost-Thursday,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff


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    (Editor’s note: Our thoughts and prayers remain with the police officers, first responsers, and people of Boston. It is only with true love and compassion that we can begin to mend what is broken in the world.)

    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we will bring The Workplace series to a close by discussing rituals of connection in coworker relationships. However, before we proceed with today’s posting, allow us to briefly recap. 

    Over the course of the past three weeks, we shared Dr. Gottman’s advice for building better emotional connections in coworker relationships, revealed common mistakes we make in the workplace, myth-busted old notions of “correct” professional behavior necessary for moving ahead, and introduced you to the real path towards achieving success in the business world: 

    • We shared a list of things to do for your coworkers to build emotional connection here
    • We shared an exercise to help you sharpen your emotional communication skills here
    • We shared an exercise to help you understand how your past may affect your emotional connection with coworkers here
    • We shared a list of things to do with your coworkers to build emotional connection here
    • We shared an activity to find shared meaning in your relationships with coworkers here
    • We shared two articles published in the Harvard Business Review that reference Dr. Gottman’s research. One discussed the ideal praise to criticism ratio for workplace relationships, while the other explained the delicate art of giving feedback

    Workplace rituals can be a powerful way for coworkers to demonstrate and build their emotional connection. Whether or not the following examples occur in your job, they may give you some ideas for instituting rituals that can help you improve emotional connections with coworkers in the future.

    Introductions: How new people are introduced and welcomed into a work group can have a significant impact on their ability to assimilate and perform. The more your work group can do to create rituals that make a new member feel welcome, the better. 

    Arrivals and departures: Hellos and good-byes are simple rituals that can go a long way toward building rapport among coworkers. Don’t be afraid to take a few extra minutes around the coffee pot in the morning or the coat rack at the end of the day. 

    Team meetings: Meetings can become even more productive if the people in attendance can be fully present and emotionally connected as they interact. The most important thing is that people feel free to speak their minds and their hearts to the group. Then, they’ll be in a better state of mind to focus on the agenda before them. 

    Birthday celebrations: The wonderful thing about celebrating birthdays in the workplace is that everybody has one! Make the celebration short and sweet, and don’t dwell on the honoree’s age – some folks are quite sensitive about this issue. 

    Recognition of special accomplishments: Many organizations sponsor rituals like “employee of the month” awards as a way to acknowledge extraordinary contributions. If the goal of such rituals is to foster emotional connection among coworkers, then it’s best to allow peer groups to select their own winners. This helps to establish a climate of appreciation. 

    Do you currently participate in rituals like these at your place of work? Do you partake in other activities to connect with coworkers that we did not list? We would love to hear about them! Join the discussion on our Facebook page. For more ideas for establishing rituals of connection with coworkers, check out Dr. John Gottman’s The Relationship Cure

    Have a great weekend, 
    Michael Fulwiler 
    TGI Staff

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we are excited to introduce a brand-new 5 week series on The Four Horsemen! Though we have mentioned them in previous postings, we have not yet had the chance to go into much depth. From our earlier blog series on Conflict Management and The Sound Relationship House, you may have gathered that The Four Horsemen are a pretty big deal in our work. They are. And here’s why.

    Many of you may be familiar with the fact that Dr. Gottman can predict the long-term success or failure of a relationship with 94% accuracy by watching the first three minutes of a couple having a conflict discussion (source). What you may not know, however, is the basis for his predictions. His projections are based largely on the success or failure of repair attempts, and on the observation of four potentially destructive communication styles that he calls "The Four Horsemen of theApocalypse." In today’s posting, we will introduce this topic by sharing a quiz with you.

    The following questionnaire assesses the presence of the Four Horsemen (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling) in your relationship. Read each statement, and choose True or False.

    When we discuss our relationship issues:

    1. I feel attacked or criticized when we talk about our disagreements. (T/F)
    2. I usually feel like my personality is being assaulted. (T/F)
    3. In our disputes, at times, I don’t even feel like my partner likes me much. (T/F)
    4. I have to defend myself because the charges against me are so unfair. (T/F)
    5. I often feel unappreciated by my partner. (T/F)
    6. My feelings and intentions are often misunderstood. (T/F)
    7. I’m not appreciated for all the good I do in this relationship. (T/F)
    8. I often just want to leave the scene of arguments. (T/F)
    9. I get disgusted by all the negativity between us. (T/F)
    10. I feel insulted by my partner at times. (T/F)
    11. I sometimes just clam up and become quiet. (T/F)
    12. I can get mean and insulting in our disputes. (T/F)
    13. I basically feel disrespected. (T/F)
    14. Many of our issues are just not my problem. (T/F)
    15. The way we talk makes me want to withdraw from the whole relationship. (T/F)
    16. I think to myself, “Who needs all this conflict?” (T/F)
    17. My partner never really changes. (T/F)
    18. Our problems have made me feel desperate at times. (T/F)
    19. My partner doesn’t face issues responsibly and maturely. (T/F)
    20. I try to point out flaws in my partner’s personality that need improvement. (T/F)
    21. I feel explosive and out of control about issues at times. (T/F)
    22. My partner uses phrases like “You always or “You never” when complaining (T/F)
    23. I often get the blame for what are really our shared problems. (T/F)
    24. I don’t have a lot of respect for my partner’s position on our basic issues. (T/F)
    25. My partner can be quite selfish and self-centered. (T/F)
    26. I feel disgusted by some of my partner’s attitudes. (T/F)
    27. My partner gets far too emotional. (T/F)
    28. Small issues often escalate out of proportion. (T/F)
    29. Arguments seem to come out of nowhere. (T/F)
    30. My partner’s feelings get hurt too easily. (T/F)

    Feeling wonderful? Feeling not so wonderful? This quiz, unlike many of the previous questionnaires we have shared with you on The Gottman Relationship Blog, has no key. There is no number of True or False responses to add up for a numerical assessment of your relationship. Assessing the presence or absence of the Four Horsemen is complicated – each Horseman has a specific effect, but the appearance of one is often accompanied by others.

    If today’s quiz has you worried, confused, and seeking more information, make sure to follow our postings over the next few weeks! We will be covering some of Dr. Gottman’s proven antidotes for fighting off the Four Horsemen, and offering you tools he has created to help couples in all areas of conflict management. We are spending quite some time on this topic, as mastery of these skills is critical for maintaining a strong, healthy, and loving relationship.

    Please note: Dr. Gottman’s decades of research with more than 3,000 couples has allowed him to create a method for helping couples break through barriers to achieve greater understanding, connection, and intimacy in their relationships. On The Gottman Relationship Blog, we cannot possibly share all of the skills that he has discovered! To dive deeper into the material we mention in these blog posts, and to learn much more about his findings and how they can help your relationship, make sure to "Like" our Facebook page and pick up a copy of one of his books: The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, The Relationship Cure, or his most recent release, What Makes Love Last?.

    All for now,

    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to continue The Four Horsemen series by providing you with a strong foundation of understanding before we go into further depth about each specific communication style. Consider today's posting an overview of what is to come over the next four weeks. 

    The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. Dr. Gottman uses this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship.

    The first horseman of the apocalypse is criticism. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint! The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack: it is an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his or her whole being when you criticize.

    • Complaint: "I was scared when you were running late and didn't call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other." 
    • Criticism: "You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don't believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!” 

    If you find that you are your partner are critical of each other, don't assume your relationship is doomed to fail. The problem with criticism is that, when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for the other, far deadlier horsemen. It makes the victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern where the first horseman reappears with greater and greater frequency and intensity.

    The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean - treating others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

    "You’re ‘tired?' Cry me a river. I've been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic computer games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid - try to be more pathetic…" 

    In his research, Dr. Gottman found that couples that are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, etc.) than others, as their immune systems weaken! Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner - which come to a head in the perpetrator attacking the accused from a position of relative superiority. Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce according to Dr. Gottman’s work. It must be eliminated!

    The third horseman is defensiveness. We’ve all been defensive. This horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on the rocks. When we feel accused unjustly, we fish for excuses so that our partner will back off. Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take them seriously, trying to get them to buy something that they don’t believe, that we are blowing them off.

    • She: "Did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight as you promised this morning?" 
    • He: "I was just too darn busy today. As a matter of fact you know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn't you just do it?" 

    He not only responds defensively, but turns the table and makes it her fault. A non-defensive response would have been: 

    "Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. Let me call them right now." 

    Although it is perfectly understandable for the male to defend himself in the example given above, this approach doesn’t have the desired effect. The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.

    The fourth horseman is stonewalling. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. In other words, stonewalling is when one person shuts down and closes himself/herself off from the other. It is a lack of responsiveness to your partner and the interaction between the two of you.  Rather than confronting the issues (which tend to accumulate!) with our partner, we make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable "out," but when it does, it frequently becomes a habit. 

    Being able to identify The Four Horsemen in your conflict discussions is a necessary first step to eliminating them, but this knowledge is not enough. To drive away destructive communication patterns, you must replace them with healthy, productive ones. This Friday, we will introduce you to the antidotes!

    Tip: Practice, practice, practice! Pay close attention the next time you find yourself engaged in a difficult conversation with your partner, a friend, or even with your children. See if you can spot any of The Four Horsemen, and try to observe their effects on the people involved.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    On Monday, 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.
    ___________________________________________

    Over the course of the next three weeks, we will not only teach you how to conquer each of The Four Horsemen in the moment, but we will also share tools that will help you begin to build barricades to prevent them from barging into your relationship in the future. Remember: we are only able to provide a glimpse into the many tools and skills Dr. Gottman has designed for couples on our blog. To see more than just the tip of the iceberg, check out the vast compendium of knowledge he shares in his many books and be sure to join our community on Facebook. Look forward to Monday's posting, as we will dive deeper into the first horseman: Conflict.

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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  • 04/29/13--16:28: The Four Horsemen: Criticism


  • This week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we will continue The Four Horsemen series by digging deeper into the first horseman of the apocalypse: criticism. Before we do so, however, we’d like to remind you of its definition and antidote. 

    As we wrote in our blog last Wednesday, criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint! The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack - it is an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his or her whole being when you criticize. It makes the victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern where the first horseman reappears with greater and greater frequency and intensity.

    Here is an example to help you distinguish between the two:

    Criticism: "You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don't believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!” 
    Complaint: "I was scared when you were running late and didn't call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other."

    As we explained on Friday, the antidote to criticism is to complain without blame. Talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express a positive need. What do you feel? What do you need from your partner in this situation?


    Criticism: “You never pay any attention to me! All you care about is watching that stupid TV show!”
    Antidote: “I’m feeling isolated and lonely tonight. Can we please talk about my day?"

    In order to connect with your partner in a healthy way, there must be real communication. Remember: in many situations, making your intentions clear can allow both of you to avoid needlessly hurting each other’s feelings. It’s imperative that you express your feelings honestly, even when it’s hard - even when it makes you feel vulnerable. Instead of vilifying each other, the two of you can become a team, able to soothe one another and give each other comfort. When you are a team, and you don’t attack each other, you learn to build and maintain loving support and trust.

    Fighting off your urge to criticize can hold defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling at bay. Not only can the elimination of critical ad-hominem attacks prevent defensive, critical, and stonewalling responses from your partner, but it can also prevent flooding for both of you – the overwhelming of all cognitive systems in extreme physiological arousal. Remember from our discussion of
    flooding: When physiological arousal accompanies relationship conflict, it may lead to: (a) a decrease in one’s ability to take in information (reduced hearing, reduced peripheral vision, problems with shifting attention away from a defensive posture), (b) an increase in defensiveness, (c) a reduction in the ability for creative problem solving, and (d) a reduction in the ability to listen and empathize.

    Look forward to Wednesday's posting, as we will explore criticism  further and discuss its negative effects on relationships.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa


    TGI Staff

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to continue Monday's discussion on criticism. It is a natural human endeavor for people to seek an explanation for their negativeaffective states and for their positive affective states. Therefore, it is natural for people to develop a negative habit of mind, searching for why they feel so bad. They naturally develop the habit of mind to scan their environment for other people’s transgressions and mistakes to account for their own annoyances or disappointments. It is also natural for people to stockpile their partner's mistakes in the service of avoiding conflict. When they stockpile, they then search for underlying patterns in these irritating partner habits, and come up with an explanation that is their final “You” statement of blame, e.g. “You’re always talking about yourself, you don’t care about me at all!” 

    To learn to replace criticisms and ad-hominem attacks with complaints, you must move from blame to stating a
    positiveneed. Behind every complaint lays a wish, a longing. To work towards constructive solutions and mutual fulfillment, you must both make an effort to let go of grudges and bitterness. You must give your partner the opportunity to try to “fix it.” Instead of attacking with “You” statements and immediately putting your partner on the defensive, you must allow them to do something that may make a difference. Instead of communicating  “negative need,” try communicating a “positive” one.

    We understand that this can be very difficult. According to Dr. Gottman, “People don’t usually think about what they need or what will remedy the situation. They think negatively about what their partner should stop doing to ease their own irritation or disappointment. But the
    positive need is a way that their partner can shine for them.” Here’s an example:

    Negative Need: 
    Jenny: You talked about yourself for the entire length of dinner.
    Rob: I did NOT.

    Positive Need:
    Jenny: I would love it if you asked me about my day.
    Rob: I had no idea you felt that way. How was your day?

    Try this one at home! You may be surprised by the improvement of responses you elicit from each other. You may experience a change in the quality of your mutual understanding. By working together, the two of you can learn to apply this knowledge to make conflict discussions more productive, healthy, and more likely to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution. On Friday, we will share an exercise that will help you to practice this skill of expressing a positive need.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to give you the opportunity to practice what you’ve learned about criticism this week. On Monday, we explained the difference between a complaint and a criticism. Remember: a complaint is about a specific issue, while a criticism is an attack on your partner's character. On Wednesday, we discussed the difference (and importance) between criticizing expressing a negative need vs. complaining using a positive need. 

    When you have time this weekend, try out the following exercise to practice fighting off the first horseman. Read the exchanges below and try to find a complaint to replace the criticism made by the first person in each pair. Come up with a statement they could make to express their feelings as a positive need. If you’d like, try this activity with your partner, and work together to save these couples from the arrival of the first horseman! Here’s an example:

    Janine: "When I ask you to meet me, you’re always ridiculously late - don’t be so unreliable and insensitive!"
    Greg: "I’m not insensitive or unreliable. Stop overreacting."

    Alternative for Janine: "I wish that when we made plans to meet somewhere, you would make it more of a priority effort to make it on time."

    Now it's your turn! We have provided sample responses at the bottom, which you can refer to after you complete the activity on your own. (no peeking!)
    1. Phoebe: "You never call me back or respond to my text messages."
      Brent: "Tell me about a single time this has happened!"
    2. Ben: "You’re always bossing me around and you never let me make decisions."
      Rory: "I do too! Last night, you got to pick the show we watched."
    3. Marshall: "You’re so demanding. I can’t always be at home on time when I’m this busy at work!"
      Holly: "I’m not demanding, I barely ever ask you for anything."
    4. Karen: "You never clean up after yourself. You’re so careless!"
      Jim: "Yes I do! You're the one who always leaves the dishes in the sink."
    5. Linda: "You’re always going out with your friends when I ask you for help."
      Wesley: "What are you talking about? I do everything around the house because you're the one who’s out all the time."
    6. Loren: "You never take me out dancing like you used to. You used to be so fun. What happened?"
      Hayden: "I don't have time for this right now."

    Here are some sample responses:

    1. Phoebe: "It would mean a lot to me if you took a moment to respond to me when I call or text you, even if it's to tell me that you are busy and will call me later."
    2. Ben: "I would really like it if I could choose the show we watch tonight."
    3. Marshall: "I know it sucks, but I have a huge deadline coming up at work, and I may have to stay at the office late some days this week. After this is over, I will take an afternoon off next week and we can go for a drive." 
    4. Karen: "I’m feeling really stressed and would really appreciate it if you helped me clean up tonight."
    5. Linda: "I would really appreciate it if you spent some time here with me and helped with some projects we need to get done tonight."
    6. Loren: "I would love it if you took me out sometime soon - maybe we could see a show or go dancing?"

    We hope that this exercise is helpful to you. If you can begin to identify ways in which to convert critical statements into complaints using a positive need, you will be able to practice communicating with your partner you in a healthier manner!

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Greetings from The Gottman Institute! We hope you’ve had a wonderful weekend. This week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue our series on The Four Horsemen with Horseman #2: Defensiveness.

    Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that its perceived effect is blame. 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, you're right. Part of this is my problem - I need to do a better job managing my time.”

    We’ve all been defensive. This horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on the rocks. When we feel accused unjustly, we fish for excuses so that our partner will back off. Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take them seriously, or are trying to get them to buy something that they don’t believe, or are blowing them off.

    She: "Did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight as you promised this morning?"
    He: "I was just too darn busy today. As a matter of fact you know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn't you just do it?"

    He not only responds defensively, but turns the tables and makes it her fault. A non-defensive response would have been:

    "Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. Let me call them right now."

    Although it is perfectly understandable for the male to defend himself in the example given above, this approach doesn’t have the desired effect. The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. He fails to solve the problem, and ends up introducing the second horsemen, his defensiveness adding kindling to the flame. Dr. Gottman talks to Anderson Cooper about defensiveness in the first half of this short clip: 


    In our next posting on Wednesday, we are going to share an exercise to help you learn to fight off defensiveness and prevent the second horseman from stampeding through your relationship. Questions? Join the conversation on our Facebook page

    Stay tuned,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In healthy relationships, partners don’t get defensive when discussing an area of conflict. According to Dr. Gottman, they instead take responsibility for their role in the issue and express an interest in their partner's feelings. They say, “You're right, I could have been more aware of how exhausted you were. What you are saying makes some sense, tell me more.” Having acknowledged that you have some role in the problem, you are accepting responsibility for a part of it. When you do this, you will find that you can have real dialogue with your partner – you become a team working through the problem together.

    Let’s take the example from Dr. Gottman’s interview with Anderson Cooper that we shared on Monday:

    She: You’re always watching TV!
    He: What do you mean "I’m always watching TV?" I’m working! Can I watch the news?! You’re always watching TV, and the kids!


    His defensive response to her criticism does nothing to help the situation. Instead, feeling attacked, he turns the tables and accuses
    her,  to which she responds in kind – defensively! Off they go!

    What is another way that they could have handled this exchange? The antidote to
    Defensiveness is Accepting Responsibility. Here’s an example:

    Accepting Responsibility:

    She: You’re always watching TV!
    He: I know you’re frustrated. I’m so tired when I get back from work that I just want to rest for a while. If it bothers you, let's find another relaxing activity that we can do together. What do you think?
    She: Okay. I’m sorry, it just feels overwhelming when I’m trying to take care of the kids and you’re just sitting there.
    He: How about if I help you and then we both go for a walk later tonight? We’ve both got to relax.
    She: Sounds good! Thanks for understanding.


    Here’s another example:

    Defensiveness:

    He: You always work so late.
    She: I have a project to do for work, we’ve got a deadline.
    He: You ALWAYS have a project to do for work. There is ALWAYS a deadline.
    She: That’s not true.
    He: Why don’t you just move into the office?!


    Accepting Responsibility:

    He: You always work so late.
    She: I know. I’m sorry. I’ve got so much to do. What’s the matter?
    He: You haven’t noticed that we never spend any time together anymore?
    She: I know it's been hard. I miss you. I’ll try to talk to my boss about these deadlines.
    He: I would really appreciate that.
    She: I’ll try to take Friday off – maybe we can go to a show or something.
    He: Sounds great! 


    Think about perpetual problems in your relationship, those problems that come up often and never seem to go away. Do you feel that the TV is on too much? Do you feel that your partner is away all the time? Do you feel overburdened with housework? Do you feel like you spend too much time arguing about little things?

    Imagine the conversations/arguments/fights you have about conflict areas going differently. If these discussions crop up all the time, you’ll be sure to benefit greatly from handling them in a healthier way. Think about a particular problem: What is your goal? What is the real problem underlying the conflict? In the first example, she wants more help and he wants them both to have a chance to relax. In the second example, he misses her, and she is stressed out at the office.

    When you have time, make a list of the subjects you want or need to address - the ones that never seem to get resolved. Write down your desired way for the conversation to go. Using the examples above, try to replace defensiveness with taking responsibility the next time the subject comes up. Also, don't forget what you learned last week about criticism: complain without blame and express a positive need. You will be happily surprised with the results!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Happy Friday! We hope you have learned a lot about Defensiveness (discussed on Monday here) and its antidote (discussed on Wednesday here) in this week's postings. Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to take the opportunity to share an excerpt from an article which cites our research. It may be of interest to you in connection with our current series on Dr. Gottman’s Four Horsemen, especially this week's discussion of Horseman #2.

    In the following interview from Forbes India, we hear from Professor Douglas Stone of Harvard Law, an expert on negotiation and difficult conversations, answering interview questions for Rotman Magazine at the University of Toronto. The topic is “blind spots.”

    ____________________


    Q: We’ve all heard of literal blind spots, but what is a "behavioral blind spot?"  

    A: These are things that we can’t see about ourselves, but which others do see.  When someone tries to give us feedback in a blind spot, we usually reject it as simply wrong - not because we’re being irrationally defensive, but because, to us, it actually seems wrong.  It leaves us feeling confused, because we wonder what would cause others to give us feedback that is so off target? Are they jealous, petty, naïve, or political?  As we sort through what would motivate the other person to give us such feedback, we move further and further from considering how the feedback might be useful to us.


    Q: What causes blind spots?

    A: There are two key causes.  The first is that we can’t see ourselves. We spend a lot of time with ourselves, so in one sense, we know more about ourselves than anyone else could ever know; but there are things about ourselves that we literally can’t see, such as our facial expressions and our body language.  Even our tone of voice is hard to judge.  So the very data that is most obvious and present to others is what is missing for us.  We communicate a tremendous amount through expressions and tone, especially regarding our emotional state.  The merest squint can communicate, “I doubt that,” even as we’re saying, “that sounds right.”

    For example, John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington who studies relationships, found that eye-rolling correlates with a higher divorce rate.  Think about it: when you roll your eyes, you are aware that you’re frustrated or disgusted, but you are unaware that you are rolling your eyes.  You are unaware, then, that you are communicating your emotions to your spouse, but your spouse is quite aware.

    A second kind of blind spot is our impact on others, which again, we cannot see, because these impacts occur inside the minds and hearts of the other person.  We have indirect evidence of it, but it’s easy to misinterpret.  “Surely, she knew I was joking,” we think;  or, “I can’t imagine what I said upset him; it wouldn’t have upset me.”  Sometimes we’re right, but often we’re wrong.

    ____________________


    Stone makes some excellent points. 

    When we become defensive in a conversation with our partner, we react to their words without listening to what they're saying. More often than not, we
     attempt to ward off the perceived attack by turning the tables on them. “It’s not my fault that we’re always late; it’s your fault.” Well, that certainly escalated quickly.

    Remember that non-verbal cues are constantly exchanged in conversation, often picked up subconsciously by our brains while we are busy processing something else in the interaction. Whether we realize it or not, they are vital to our interpretation of the speaker’s intent. Tone, body language, facial expression, and other external affectual signs are often internationally recognizable, not particular to any cultural or ethinc group.  We can all read eye-rolling as contempt, as Stone mentioned above, and feel a listener’s turned-away body language as a sign of withdrawal. However, other non-verbal cues are not as recognizable. You may not even be aware that you are doing it. 

    We urge you to heed Douglas Stone’s words, and to take his message to heart in your future conflict discussions with your partner. We may have the best intentions when we come into a conversation, but even the most positive attitude cannot last in the face of serious misunderstanding. Though you may have your partner’s interests at heart, if he/she misinterprets your message, you’re likely on your way to Horseman Hell:  criticism can evoke a defensive response, followed by a contemptuous statement, leading to emotional withdrawal and stonewalling. Keep your focus on avoiding the first two, and you can hold off the rest more easily! Not to worry - we will begin our discussion of contempt on monday.

    Practice paying attention to your responses and those of your partner this weekend. Take time to work through Wednesday’s exercise on accepting responsibility and see the benefits of your results - watch your relationship begin to feel safer, more stable, and more intimate than ever.

    Until Monday,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff


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