Seven Research-Based Principles for Making Organisations Work

Seven Research-Based Principles for Making Organisations Work

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, written with Nan Silver, renowned clinical psychologist and marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D, reveals what successful relationships look like and features valuable activities to help couples strengthen their relationships.

Gottman’s principles are research-based. He and his colleagues studied hundreds of couples (including newlyweds and long-term couples); interviewed couples and videotaped their interactions; even measured their stress levels by checking their heart rate, sweat flow, blood pressure and immune function; and followed couples annually to see how their relationships fared.

He also found that nine months after attending his workshops, 640 couples had relapse rates of 20 percent, while standard marital therapy has a relapse rate of 30 to 50 percent. In the beginning of these workshops, 27 percent of couples were at high risk for divorce. Three months later, 6.7 percent were at risk. Six months later, it was 0 percent.

Below are his seven principles, adapted to organisations, along with a few organisational-health-strengthening activities to try.

1. Enhancing “Love Maps”

Love is in the details. That is, flourishing organisations are very much familiar with their folks’ worlds, and needs. Such companies have “a richly detailed love map” — an informal map interweaving all the relevant information about folks and their lives. People in these companies know many things about each other – everything from their favourite movies to what’s currently stressing them out, from what their needs are to some of their life’s dreams.

2. Nurture Fondness And Admiration

In flourishing organisations people respect each other and have a general positive view of each other. Gottman says that fondness and admiration are two of the most important elements in satisfying and long-term relationships. If these elements are completely missing, relationships degenerate into something purely transactional (and “engagement” goes out the window).

Gottman includes a helpful activity to connect people with the humanity of their colleagues. He calls this “I appreciate”. He suggests folks list three or more of a colleague’s positive characteristics along with an incident that illustrates each quality. Then share these lists with others – including the subjects.

3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead Of Away

Working with others isn’t about a few amazing moments. Rather, positive connections live and thrive in the everyday, little things. Channelling Gottman, “[positive regard] is kept alive each time you let a colleague know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.”

For instance, positive regard is leaving an encouraging message for a colleague when you know she’s having a bad day. Or we can signal positive regard when we’re really busy but still take a few minutes to listen to a colleague’s anxiety and arrange to discuss it later (instead of dismissing it with something like “I don’t have time”).

This might seem humdrum, but turning toward each other in these ways is the basis for connection and positive regard. Organisations where colleagues turn toward each other have more in their “emotional bank accounts”.  This positive balance distinguishes flourishing from miserable ones. Flourishing organisations have more goodwill and positivity stored in their bank accounts, so when rough times hit, their emotional savings cushion conflicts and stressors.

4. Invite Colleagues To Influence You

Flourishing organisations are places where people consider each other’s perspective and feelings. Folks make decisions together and search out common ground. Letting your colleagues and co-workers influence you isn’t about having someone hold your reins; it’s about honoring and respecting each other.

5. Solve solvable problems

Gottman says that there are two types of problems: conflicts that can be resolved, and perpetual problems that can’t. It’s important for people to determine which ones are which.

Sometimes, though, telling the difference can be tricky. “One way to identify solvable problems is that they seem less painful, gut-wrenching, or intense than perpetual, gridlocked ones.” Solvable problems are situational, and there’s no underlying conflict.

Gottman devised a five-step model for resolving these conflicts:

  1. Soften your startup, which simply means starting the conversation without criticism or contempt.
  2. Make and receive “repair attempts” – any action or statement that deescalates tension.
  3. Soothe yourself and then each other. When you feel yourself getting heated during a conversation, let other folks know that you’re overwhelmed and take a 20-minute break. (That’s how long it takes for your body to calm down.) Then you might try closing your eyes, taking slow, deep breaths, relaxing your muscles and visualising a calm place. After you’ve calmed down, you might help soothe your colleagues. Ask each other what’s most comforting and do that.
  4. Compromise. The above steps prime people for compromise because they create positivity. When conflicts arise, it’s important to take each other’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. Here, Gottman includes a valuable exercise to help people find common ground. He suggests that each person draw two circles: a smaller one inside a larger one. In the smaller circle, people make a list of their nonnegotiable points. In the bigger one, make a list of what you can compromise on. Share these drawing with each other and look for common ground. Consider what you agree on, what your common goals and feelings are and how you can accomplish these goals.
  5. Remember to be tolerant of one other’s faults. Compromise is impossible until you can accept everyone’s flaws and get over the “if onlies.” (You know the ones: “If only he was this” “If only she was that.”)

6. Overcome Gridlock

The goal with perpetual problems is for people to “move from gridlock to dialogue.” What usually underlies gridlock is unfulfilled needs. “Gridlock is a sign that you have [needs] in your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other”. Flourishing organisations believe in the importance of everyone – the organisation included – helping each other attend to their needs.

So the first step in overcoming gridlock is to determine the need or need that are causing a conflict. The next steps include talking to each other about your needs (never easy), taking a break (since some of these talks can get stressful),  airing (and thereby making peace with) the problem, and ultimately sharing a (refusable) request aimed at addressing the need.

“The goal is to ‘declaw’ the issue, to try to remove the hurt [and negative feelings] so the problem stops being a source of great pain,” Gottman writes.

7. Create Shared Meaning

Working together isn’t just about projects, deadlines, cakes and and getting drunk together. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together — a culture rich with rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you, that lead you to understand what it means to be a part of the community you have become.

And that’s what it means to develop shared meaning. Flourishing organisations create a community culture that attends to everyone’s needs. In being open to each other’s perspectives and opinions, flourishing organisations naturally thrive.

– Bob

Further Reading

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being ~ Martin Seligman
7 Research-Based Principles for Making Marriage Work ~ Margarita Tartakovsky

2 comments
  1. I’ve been married 51 years. Communication is the key. Living through the good and bad makes you strong: I agree: ‘It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together — a culture rich with rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you, that lead you to understand what it means to be a part of the community you have become.” Be true to each other: love each other. Understand each other. Never take each other for granted. Enjoy your life together. Enjoy nature’s beauty. Celebrate happiness. Know that bad times will come again. Deal with bad times. Get through them together. Life is a normal curve: good, bad and “normal” times. Get ready for anything, any day.
    Life is what happens while you are planning.

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