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Light & Dark

As the closing sequences of the HBO Series "True Detective" play out, Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey's character) utters what sounds to be a fairly inane sentence:

"Well, once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light's winning."

I've been thinking a lot about this scene and these words over the last couple of weeks. In a personal sense, I've been thinking about how easy it is in our daily relationships (be they at work or home) to get drawn into the "dark" - gossip, negativity, back-stabbing, blaming...

John Gottman, Ph.D., in his seminal work spoke of "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" as behaviours that are predictive of relationship failure. To me, these "Four Horsemen" are the "dark" roles we play (consciously or otherwise) in our daily interactions:-

  1. Criticism & Complaint - Criticism is generalised commentary such are "You never help me!". Complaint is more specific - "You said you'd get those projects finished this week - I can't believe you've failed".

  2. Contempt - Typically not verbal: eye rolling, sneering, laughing inappropriately, mockery, name calling......

  3. Defensiveness - Blaming the other person (or people) in the relationship / interaction ..... "It's not me, it's you" or "It's not us, it's them" is the thought process in defensiveness which may (or may not) be vocalised.

  4. Stonewalling - Usually seen manifesting through non-action: lack of eye contact, short one-word answers, low engagement, physical detachment and avoidance (the person who just stops attending meetings!).

Over the last twenty years I've seen these "Four Horsemen" being played out on a daily basis in the work environment by very likeable, intelligent people.

I've been (and sometimes still am) guilty of employing one (or maybe all four) of these roles in my engagement with colleagues. Why do I (we) live, behave and act in this "dark-ness" when, intellectually, I (we) know it doesn't work?

Is it Ego, Pride, Self-preservation, Fear? I'm not sure, but I do know there is some pay-off otherwise I (we) wouldn't keep living in the "dark".

In the context of a personal (romantic) relationship Howard Lambert, Ph.D., suggests there are a number of 'antidotes' to these "Four Horseman" including -

  • Learn how to mirror your partner’s complaints.

  • Scan for whatever is valid in your partner’s complaint and address that.

  • Speak respectfully even when angry.

  • Practice holding yourself and your partner in warm regard, even when feeling distant or during a fight.

  • Learn the skills of repairing damage in the relationship.

  • Always live up to your agreements (or renegotiate if you can’t.)

  • Make all requests of your partner clear, simple and specific.

  • Practice sharing compliments, appreciations and praise daily.

These acts are Lambert's "Light" to the Four Horseman "Dark". In the corporate/work context what might this "Light" be? For me, the 'antidotes' are -

  • Curiosity - a curious mindset & curious questioning will move the focus from self to the person you are interacting with. Accusations and criticism can be changed to "What's happening with you?"

  • Context - being willing to provide OR seek context; walk a few steps in the shoes of others; actively shift perspective.

  • Compassion - take a leaf out of the Buddhist philosophy of "loving kindness" through the role of compassion in interactions.

  • Clarity - remove assumptions and perceptions from the interaction by talking about facts not conjecture & opinion.

  • Communication - use all of the tools of communication: give voice to yourself, listen intently, look into the eyes of those you are interacting with.... where appropriate use that most fundamental of human interaction - touch.

What role do you play and are you living in the "Dark" or is the "Light" winning in your world?

#culture #leadership #selfreflection

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