Posts Tagged ‘John Gottman’

Managing with Heart

March 18, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” A new competitive reality is putting intelligence at a premium in the workplace and in the marketplace. Shoshone Zuboff, a psychologist at Harvard Business School pointed out to Goleman, “corporations have gone though a radical revolution within the 20th century, and with this has come a corresponding transformation of the emotional landscape. There was a long period of managerial domination of the corporate hierarchy when the manipulative, jungle-fighter boss was rewarded. But that rigid hierarchy started breaking down in the 1980s under the twin pressures of globalization and information technology. The jungle fighter symbolizes where the corporation has been; the virtuosic in interpersonal skills is the corporate future.”

All the deleterious effects of agitation on thinking discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts operate in the workplace too: When emotionally upset, people cannot remember, attend, learn, or make decisions clearly. One management consultant, likely many management consultants, have said, “Stress makes people stupid.”

A discussion of the importance of emotional intelligence to three issues of the workplace will be presented: being able to air grievances as helpful critiques, creating an atmosphere in which diversity is valued, and networking effectively.

The worst way to motivate someone is through personal attacks rather then complaints that can be acted upon. One of the more common forms of destructive criticism is a generalized statement like “You’re screwing up,” delivered in a harsh, sarcastic, angry tone that provides neither a chance to respond nor any suggestion of how to do things better. The person receiving it feels helpless and angry. From the point of emotional intelligence, such criticism displays an ignorance of feelings it triggers in those who receive it, along with the devastating effect these feelings will have on their motivation, energy, and confidence in doing their work.

This destructive dynamic was found in a survey of managers who were asked to think back to times they blew up at employees and, in the heat of the moment, made a personal attack. The angry attacks had effects much like they would in a married couple: the employees who received them reacted most often by becoming defensive, making excuses, or evading responsibility. Sometimes they stonewalled in that they tried to avoid all contact with the manager who blew up at them. If these employees had been subjected to the emotional microscope of John Gottman used with married couples that was described in the blog post “Intimate Enemies,” they would no doubt have been shown to be thinking the thoughts of innocent victimhood or righteous indignation typical of husbands or wives who feel unfairly attacked. If their physiology were measured, they would probably also display the flooding that reinforces such thoughts. Yet these managers were only further annoyed and provoked by these responses. Goleman suggests that this would be the beginning of a cycle in the business world that ends in the employee quitting or being fired. This is the business equivalent of a divorce.

J.R. Larson, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana, notes that “most problems in an employee’s performance are not sudden. They develop slowly over time. When the boss fails to let his feelings be known promptly, it leads to his frustration building up slowly. Then, one day, he blows up about it. If the criticism had been given earlier on, the employee would have been able to correct the problem. Too often people criticize only when things boil over, when they get too angry to contain themselves. And that’s when they give the criticism in the worst way, in a tone of biting sarcasm, calling to mind a long list of grievances they have kept to themselves, or making threats. Such attacks backfire. They are received as an affront, so the recipient becomes angry in return. It’s the worst way to motivate someone.”

Harry Levinson, who is a psychoanalyst turned corporate consultant, gives the following advice on a critique, which is intricately entwined with the art of praise:

“*Be specific. Pick a significant incident, an event that illustrates a key problem that needs changing or a pattern of deficiency, such as the inability to do certain parts of a job well. It demoralizes people just to hear that they are doing “something” wrong, without knowing what the specifics are so they can change. Focus on the specifics, saying what the person did well, what was done poorly, and how it could be changed. Don’t beat about the bush or be oblique or evasive; it will muddy the real message. This, of course, is akin to the advice to couples about they “XYZ” statement of a grievance: say exactly what the problem is, what’s wrong with it, or how it makes you feel, and what could be changed.”

Levinson points out, “Specificity is just as important for praise as for criticism. I won’t say the vague praise has no effect at all, but it doesn’t have much, and you can’t learn from it.”

“* Offer a solution. The critique, like all useful feedback, should point a way to fix the problem. Otherwise it leaves the recipient frustrated, demoralized, or unmotivated. The critique may open the door to possibilities and alternatives that the person did not realize were there, or simply sensitize her to deficiencies that need attention—but should include suggestions about how to take care of the problem.”

“*Be present. Critiques, like praise, are most effective face to face and in private. People who are uncomfortable giving a criticism—or offering praise—are likely to ease the burden on themselves by doing it as a distance, such as a memo. But this makes communication too impersonal, and robs the person receiving it of an opportunity for a response or clarification.

“* Be sensitive. This is a call for empathy, for being attuned to the impact of what you say and how you say it on the person at the receiving end, Managers who have little empathy are most prone to giving feedback in a hurtful fashion, such as the withering putdown. The net effect of such criticism is destructive: instead of opening the way for a corrective, it creates an emotional backlash of resentment, bitterness, defensiveness, and distance.”

The key to dealing with diversity is to see value in diversity. Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the United States, if not is greatest strength, is the diversity of its population. It is a country of immigrants coming from many different cultures. Unfortunately, too many people see diversity as a problem or a challenge rather than an opportunity. Efforts to restrict immigration are not only hypocritical, as with the exception of the first Americans, the native Americans, we are all immigrants, but also harmful to our continued growth and productivity. Such people are selfish with the attitude of we’ve got ours, so screw you. They are likely highly prejudiced against people who do not look like them or worship as they do.

Prejudices are a kind of emotional leaning that occurs early in life, making these reactions especially hard to eradicate entirely, even in people who as adults feel it is wrong to hold them. There is a healthy memory blog post, “Implicit versus Explicit Prejudice” which discusses implicit biases. There is also a website that provides tests for implicit biases. There are tests you can take to measure your implicit bias. Do not be discouraged if you score high on certain biases. These are implicit biases that might well be the result of your experiences and learning when you were young. If your explicit behavior does not reflect any biases, then you can reward yourself for overcoming your biases. However, be very careful. We humans are very good at fooling ourselves, and we have many subterfuges for hiding biases. Moreover, it is irrelevant whether we regard ourselves as being bias free. This judgment is better made by other people, preferably people who are the source of your biases. The bottom line here is to work to rid ourselves of all bias. Bias is bad personally and to our country, and the world. We need to work toward zero tolerance for intolerance.

There is a relationship between diversity and networkingy effectively. Networking effectively entails being knowledgeable about the skills and areas of expertise of your coworkers. Clearly any racial, ethnic,or religious biases will degrade or destroy networking effectively. Peter Drucker, the business maven who coined the term “knowledge worker” noted that with knowledge work, “teams become the work unit rather than the individual himself.” This implies that emotional intelligence, the skills that help people harmonize, are central to networking effectively.

Group intelligence has been discussed in previous healthy memory posts. This idea of a group intelligence comes from the Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg and his graduate student Wendy Williams. They developed this concept when they were seeking to understand why some groups are far more effective than others. When people come together to work as a group, each brings different talents. Goleman writes that “while a group can be no “smarter” than the sum total of all these specific strengths, it can be much dumber if its internal workings don’t allow all of these specific strengths, it can be much dumber if its internal workings don’t allow people to share their strengths.” Although HM certainly agrees with the second part of this statement, he strongly disagrees with the first part. The group can be smarter than the sum of its parts. Synergy is the term to describe this.

The first step in networking effectively is to find as much as you can about potential collaborators. Try to develop personal relationships to learn what they know, what they can do, and what they can contribute. Even if the individual or group does not seem to have relevance, one can invite individuals or groups to meetings to see if they have any ideas as to what they can contribute.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Intimate Enemies

March 17, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Intimate enemies refers to married couples having marital problems. Marital therapists have long noted that by the time a couple finds their way to a therapy office they are in this pattern of engage-withdraw with the husband complaining about her “unreasonable “ demands and outbursts, and the wife lamenting his indifference to what she is saying. In effect, there are two emotional realities in a couple, his and hers. The roots of these emotional differences, although they may be partly biological, can also be traced back to childhood, and to the separate emotional worlds boys and girls inhabit while growing up. One study of children’s friendships found that three-year olds say about half their friends are of the opposite sex; for five-year-olds it’s about 20%, and by age seven almost no boys or girls say they have a best friend of the opposite sex. Until teenagers start dating, these separate universes intersect little.

Boys and girls are taught very different lessons about handling emotions. In general, parents discuss emotions—with the exception of anger—more with their daughters than with their sons. Girls are exposed to more information about emotions than are boys; when parents make up stories to tell their preschool children, they use more emotion words when talking to daughters than to sons. When mothers play with their infants, they display a wider range of emotions to daughters than to their sons; when mothers talk to daughters about feelings, they discuss in more detail the emotional state itself than they do with their sons—though with the sons they go into more detail about the causes and consequences of emotions like anger.

Two researchers who have summarized the research on differences in emotions between the sexes, Leslie Brody and Judith Hall, propose that because girls develop facility with language more quickly than do boys, this leads them to be more experienced at articulating their feelings and more skilled than boys at using words to explore and substitute for emotional reactions such as physical fights. They note “boys, for whom the verbalization of affects is de-emphasized, may become largely unconscious of their emotional states, both in themselves and in others.

At age ten, roughly the same % of girls and boys are overtly aggressive, given to open confrontation when angered. However, by age 13, a telling difference between the sexes emerges: girls become more adept than boys at artful aggressive tactics like ostracism, vicious gossip, and indirect vendettas. By and large, boys simply continue being confrontational when angered, oblivious to these covert strategies. This is just one of the many ways the boys, and later men, are less sophisticated than the opposite sex in emotional skills.

Harvard’s Carol Gilligan notes that differences between boys and girls at play point to a key disparity between the sexes: boys take pride in a lone, tough-minded independence and autonomy, while girls see themselves as part of a web of connectedness. So boys are threatened by anything that might challenge their independence, while girls are more threatened by a rupture in their relationships. Deborah Tannen pointed out in her book “You Just Don’t Understand,” these differing perspectives mean that men and women want and expect very different things out of a conversation, with men content to talk about “things,” while women seek emotional connection.

A psychologist at the University of Texas, Ted Huston, who has studied couples in depth, observes, “To the wives, intimacy means talking things over, especially talking about the relationship itself. By and large, the men don’t understand what their wives want from them. Huston found that during courtship men were much more willing to spend time talking in ways that suited the wish for intimacy of their wives-to-be. But once married, as time went on the men—especially more traditional couples, spent less and less time talking in this way with their wives, finding a sense of closeness simply in doing things like gardening together rather than talking things over. Men tend to be somewhat Pollyannaish about the state of they marriage, while their wives are attuned to the trouble spots.

There are implications of this emotional gender gap for how couples handle the grievances and disagreements that any intimate relationship inevitably spawns. Specific issues such as how often a couple has sex, how to discipline children, or how much debt and savings a couple feels comfortable with are not what makes or breaks a marriage. Rather, it is how a couple discusses such sore points that matter for the fate of their marriage. Simply having reached an agreement about how to disagree is key to marital survival; men and women have to overcome the innate genre differences in approaching rocky emotions. Failing this, couples are vulnerable to emotional rifts that eventually can tear their relationship apart. These rifts are far more likely to develop if one or both partners have certain deficits in emotional intelligence.

John Gottman,a University of Washington psychologist, runs a laboratory that analyses the emotional glue that binds couples together, and the corrosive feelings that can destroy marriages. Couples conversations are videotaped in his laboratory and then subjected to hours of microanalysis designed to reveal the emotional currents at play. This mapping of the faults lines that may lead a couple to divorce makes a convincing case for the crucial role of emotional intelligence in the survival of a marriage. While couples talk sensors record the slightest flux in their physiology, a second-by-second analysis of their facial expressions detects the most fleeting and subtle nuance of feeling. After the session each partner comes separately to the lab and watches a video tape of the conversation, and narrates his or her secret thoughts during the heated moments of the exchange. Dr. Gotten is able to predict which couples will divorce within three years with 94% accuracy.

There are important differences between complaints and personal criticisms. In a complaint, one person states specifically what is upsetting, and criticizes the other’s action, not the person, about how it made the person feel. “When you forgot to pick up my clothes at the cleaner’s it made me feel like you don’t care about me.” This is an expression of basic emotional intelligence: assertive, not belligerent or passive. But in a personal criticism the grievance is used to launch a global attack on the person. For example, “You’re always so selfish and uncaring. It just proves I can’t trust you to do anything right.” This kind of criticism leaves the person on the receiving end feeling ashamed, disliked, blamed, and defective—all of which are more likely to lead to a defensive response than to steps to improve things.

The two arms of the fight-or-flight response each represents ways a spouse can respond to an attack. The most obvious is to fight back, lashing out in anger. That route typically ends in a fruitless shouting match. But the alternative response, fleeing, can be more pernicious, particularly when the “flight” is a retreat into stony silence. Stonewalling is the ultimate defense. The stonewaller just goes blank, in effect withdrawing from the conversation by responding with a stony expression and silence. Stonewalling showed up mainly in marriages that were heading for trouble; in 85% of these cases it was the husband who stonewalled in response to a wife who attacked with criticism and contempt. As a habitual response stonewalling is devastating to the health of a relationship: it cuts off all possibility of working out disagreements.

Gotten uses the term “flooding’ for the susceptibility to frequent emotional distress: Flooded husbands or wives are so overwhelmed by their partner’s negativity and their own reaction to it that they are swamped by dreadful, out-of-control feelings. People who are flooded cannot hear without distortion or respond with clear-headedness; they find it hard to organize their thinking and fall back on primitive reactions. They want things to stop, or to run or, sometimes to strike back. Flooding is a self-perpetuating emotional highjacking.

The technical description of flooding is in terms of heart rate rise from calm levels. At rest, the women’s heart rates are about 82 beats per minute, men’s about 72. Flooding begins at about 10 beats per minute above a person’s resting rate; if the heart reaches 100 beats per minute (as it can easily do during moments of rage or tears), then the body is pumping adrenaline and other hormones that keep distress high for some time. The moment of emotional highjacking is apparent from the heart rate: it can jump 10, 20, or even as many as 30 beats per minute within the space of a single heartbeat. Muscles tense; it can seem hard to breathe. There is a swamp of toxic feelings, an unpleasant wash of fear and anger that seems inescapable. This is clearly a dangerous point for a marriage.

Men are the vulnerable sex. Women, on average, do not mind plunging into the unpleasantness of a marital squabble nearly so much as do the men in their lives. Husbands are prone to flooding at a lower intensity of negativity than are their wives. More men than women react to they spouse’s criticism with flooding. Once flooding, husbands secrete more adrenaline into their bloodstream, and their adrenaline flow is triggered by lower levels of negativity on their wife’s part; it takes husbands longer to recover from flooding.

Men are more likely to be stonewallers and women are more likely to criticize their husbands in their assumed roles as emotional managers. There seems to be a fundamental incapability here. So what can be done?

In general, men and women need different emotional fine-tuning. For men, the advice is not to sidestep conflict, but to realize that when their wife brings up some grievance or disagreement, she may be doing it as an act of love trying to keep the relationship healthy and on course (but there may be other motives here). When grievances simmer, they build and build in intensity until there’s an explosion: when they are aired and worked out, it takes the pressure off. But husbands need to realize that anger or discontent is not synonymous with personal attack—their wives emotions are often simply underlines, emphasizing the strength of feelings about the matter.

Men also need to be on guard again short-circuiting the discussion by offering a practical solution too early on—it’s typically more important to a wife that she feel her husband hears her complaining and empathizes with her feelings. Neither party should make personal attacks.

When discussions or arguments become heated, it might be wise to agree to break off the discussion or argument now, and to resume it at a later time.