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Relationships - 27 October 2009

I was at a networking event a few years ago where I struck up a conversation with a couple who were on their first date. The man had been married and divorced four times while the woman had been married and divorced three times. I incredulously asked the guy if all of this puts him off ever getting married again. His response was, ‘No, I’m really looking forward to my next divorce’.

Dr John Gottman is an American university professor whose long-term studies have developed into a methodology that enables him to predict with 90 percent accuracy which newlywed couples will stay married and which will divorce within six years.

The world-renowned academic has identified the four biggest problems that lead to divorce. He calls them The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These barriers also stand in the way of managers when they try to build successful relationships with their employees.

Criticism: In marriages, this is when one partner attacks the other’s personality or character instead of the specific behaviour that’s bothering them. Likewise, to preserve workplace relationships, you’re better off giving feedback like, “I’m disappointed you came to work late” than to get personal with something like, “It’s irresponsible and lazy of you to turn up late.”

Contempt: In marriages, this occurs when one partner insults the other and disrespects them. Similarly, at work, you know you’re behaving contemptuously towards your employees when you roll your eyes, sigh loudly with disdain, scold them in public, and mock them in front of their peers. These actions fracture your most important relationships.

Defensiveness: In marriages, this happens when a partner refuses to take responsibility during an argument. In the workplace, you’re getting defensive when you making excuses for your mistakes rather than owning up to them. If conflict arises and you find yourself apportioning blame and not listening, you’re actively destroying the relationship.

Stonewalling: In marriages, this takes place when one partner gives the other the silent treatment. In workplace relationships, any refusal to respond to your employees’ concerns is unhealthy and destructive. Instead of sensibly working through any problems, your avoidance of them will make matters worse. It’s better to deal with any underlying issues.

Employees sign more than just a financial contract with you. They also sign a psychological one, too. If you ignore the latter, you might have to look forward to your next divorce.

 

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