The Four Horsemen of Poor Relationships

I recently re-read a great article that discussed the four behaviors most responsible for killing relationships at home. The article quoted John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles That Make Marriage Work. And Gottman was quoted in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. Anyone quoted by Malcolm Gladwell is worth a few minutes of my time.

In the article, Gottman points to the following behaviors, any and all of which tend to lead towards a break down in the relationship:

  1. Criticism (as opposed to complaints). Criticism attacks the person. Complaints attack the behavior. One is personal, one is not.
  2. Contempt. Name calling. Eye rolling. Sighing. Dismissive laughter. These are toxic, because they communicate more than “I don’t agree.” These also convey disgust.
  3. Defensiveness. Being defensive is about deflecting blame onto someone or something else. It shows an unwillingness to take responsibility. It escalates conflict, by not allowing resolution to happen.
  4. Stonewalling. Tuning out. Disengaging. Not listening. These behaviors are about removing oneself emotionally, and are highly toxic.

Relationships are the bedrock upon which most other elements of our lives are built. And, furthermore, they require a non-stop effort to stay connected, to respect, to nurture. The work is never done. Relationships need constant maintenance.

My point today is to encourage you to look closely at the list above. And whether you want to examine the personal relationships in your life is up to you. But this blog is focused on our professional lives, so I will be a bit more bold there, and encourage you to take a few minutes of your time to think about your professional relationships. Because they too need constant nurturing and maintenance… just as much nurturing and maintenance as the ones at home.

Be wary of the four horsemen. Because when they show up, the end of days for that relationship, or that team, may not be far behind.

Have a great day.

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Brett Slater

A book about change

The Latimer Corporation’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.