workplace relationships and spotting trouble...

Relationships are hard work. And in the workplace they can not necessarily be plain sailing. We find relationships at work a lot easier as they are structured and role driven. Workplaces are made up of a spectrum of personalities. They are made up of genders. And they are made up of at least 4 or even 5 generations. Workplaces are focused on commercial outcomes. Productivity matters. And to avoid legal liabilities all types of boundaries of behavior and speech are put into place. These are  reduced to regulations around what can be said or done in the work place. Humans are what they are. And its very difficult to regulate every sentence or monitor every non verbal. If anything, the more stringent the governance that exist in any setting, the more that people try to test the boundaries. On the other hand bullying happens. Some individuals are not aware of what they do. Some individuals are very aware and calculated in being bullies or just by personality making life difficult.

These are notes from introductory lectures given by the author on relationship and family therapy. The 4 theories found here have their origins with a famous relationship theorist called John Gottman in the United States. Gottman says that there are 4 major destructive behaviours in relationships. 

Gottman says that these 4 destructive behaviours are so insidious that if they are practiced they will bring about ultimate destruction of a relationship. In counselling some couples or families might persist but they endure hell in the meantime.  Gottman is quite dramatic fellow. He labels the 4 destructive behaviours as  “the Four horseman of the apocalypse.” 

The first of the apocalyptic horseman is Criticism. By criticism he does not mean some disagreement or banter. He means a personal attack on your partners personality or character. We are not talking about an airing of differences or an exasperated debate that will occur in all relationships, but the consistent pursuit and prosecution and tearing down of an individuals personality and their actions and their behaviours. If your on the end of this you learn that you are incapable of doing anything right. Applying this to a work relationship the impact on someone going to work and being critiqued continually should be obvious.

The second horseman comes in the form of  Contempt. The tearing down and insults that can come openly in words, can be shown contemptuously in non verbal’s. Eye rolling, sneering or physically turning away, are all part of contempt. A cultural note might be worth mentioning. In Australian settings, we have a high tolerance to insult and mocking. There is banter and insult which is mutual and reciprocated and accepted satire. There is also pure contempt. Workplace bullying can make its appearance in forms of  contempt and can be quite subtle and secretive or non verbal and unobserved  by third party observers. Workers as well Managers can be victims of it as much as be perpetrators of it.

Gottman’s third horseman is the unrelenting, ongoing defensiveness, which is more than just an individual being hyper sensitive or vigilant. It is the protracted commitment to taking everything personally and being closed off to any other way of seeing the world or issues. It usually follows, that individuals will take no responsibility, nor can they be reasoned with to consider the impact on others of their actions and behaviors.  They are blind and deaf to any opinion or statement that they will translate as personal. Such individuals rarely show any initiative and retreat to their own personal fortification.

The 4th Horseman is euphemistically called Stone walling by Gottman. I call it Barb wiring as we in an Australian setting are more familiar with barb wire than stone walls.  I think it conveys something sharp and unwelcoming as well. Barb wiring  is the deliberate ignoring and total lack of responsiveness to any invitations or overtures to communicate or be part of a conversation or another persons projects or pains or issues. It is a deliberate ignoring in the face of a required need to be available or to be present.

Banks , Credit Unions  and Mine sites and Power stations and Resource Companies and Government offices  are not families.  They are however made up of people working in hierarchies with a complex array of psycho-social and political and financial  dynamics in place. 

That’s why Managing people and exercising leadership is so interesting. Its also why it can be so difficult. They are also made up of individuals who want to be treated by their work mates and their managers with a dignity and respect. Gottman has never written anything on management or business theory or Risk management. But the apocalyptic horsemen released from the starting gate, and tolerated or ignored  by Managers in a workplace will create their own hell.