Earlier this month we introduced the first of John Gottman’s Four Horsemen – or communication behaviors that lead to failure. Gottman’s claim to fame is his ability to predict divorce with a 91% accuracy rate, and he bases these conclusions on the communication practices of married couples. The tricky thing about communication is that we must communicate with people all of the time, and in every situation. Applying the lessons Gottman offers about marital communication to all of our relationships not only improves our personal relationships, it improves our professional relationships and personal perceptions of self-worth. Last month we covered the first two horsemen, criticism and contempt and this month we cover the final two, defensiveness and stonewalling. Take the time to review all four and discuss your communication with someone you trust. If you recognize your relationships in any of the four horsemen behaviors know that if you want to keep the relationship, the communication has to change.
To be fair, when we get defensive it is usually because we feel criticized or like our partner has been holding us in contempt. It seems innocent, just a desire to make our own voice heard and to not take insults lying down. When we get defensive, what we actually just want our communication partner to back off and perhaps apologize. Interestingly, we keep wanting that every time we get defensive even though it never works that way. Defensiveness does not serve to cool an argument down, rather it heats it up. In practice it places the blame on our communication partner and escalates the conflict. Many times defensive communication is actual a means of deflecting the issue and turning the argument into one about your partner. Be aware of the problems with getting defensive and know that if your real goal is to end the criticism you feel you are on the receiving end of, getting defensive will not make your communication partner see things from your perspective.
Stonewalling is pretty much that – making one’s self a stone wall and refusing to enter into any productive communication. This is the completely disinterested listener who often just looks away instead of being interested in the conversation, or being interested in the argument. In the mind of the person stonewalling the action is simply one of avoiding the fight, but in the bigger picture the action is one of avoiding the relationship.
While the other three horsemen can waltz into a relationship at any time and in no particular order, stonewalling generally comes last. This is because the person engaging in stonewalling has become overwhelmed by the first three horsemen that seem to inevitably come to play whenever there is an argument. The relationship has been in a negative spiral long enough that the emotional and physical impact of the arguments is just too harsh. If you recognize yourself or someone who you care about doing this in a relationship it means that it is time to get back to basics if you want to save the relationship. Consider Edge of Change for one-on-one coaching or group coaching to improve the communication within the relationships you want and need in your life.