What if you could prevent a break-up just by changing your language? Well, it seems like you can. Dr. Gottman, professor emeritus of the University of Washington, demonstrated that just by monitoring couples’ conversations, he could predict with over 90% accuracy if the couples would split up. The magic (aka toxic) factors? Criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and.. by far the biggest predictor: contempt. He calls these the Four horsemen of the apocalypse. I know, I’m as surprised as you are: ‘Lotte, you’re telling me people DON’T like to be treated like badly behaved monkeys that have the IQ of a banana?’. I know, I need to reconsider all of my previous interactions too!
In all seriousness, I do. I think we all do.
I wouldn’t be Lotte if I wouldn’t turn this into a political monologue somehow, so here we go. How have we been treating Trump-supporters, ‘populists’, climate change skeptics, or just plain old Conservatives? Before you say: ‘Are you asking me to just accept that people deny climate change!?’, and start printing a picture of my head to put on your dartboard, let me provide some nuance. No, I don’t think we should just accept it, but I think we should be smart about it. We can’t expect respect for our viewpoints if we don’t start with some basic human respect first, even if we are certain we are right. But what about them?
How has trying to change others worked out for you so far? Exactly.
Going back to Dr. Gottman, he explains how contempt often comes from a feeling of desperation. If I take a long hard look at myself, I have to admit that’s how I feel in relation to Trump supporters too. It’s scary man! I don’t get why people would vote for him and I would rather just sign the divorce papers now and find another fling with less pompous hair and a natural tan. However, divorcing almost half of the population makes it nearly impossible not to run into your ex at parties, which we all know is VERY awkward.
So, what’s the antidote? Here’s Gotmann’s short term solution: describe your feelings and needs. In a polarized society, the start of the conversation could look something like this: ‘I’m uncomfortable talking to you about this topic and I’m afraid we’ll end up in a fight. I really want to have an open conversation and I promise I’ll do my best to listen to you without judgement.’ The long-term antidote, as Gotmann puts it, is to build a culture of fondness and admiration. For now, I’m afraid that’s a bridge too far. When we get to the point where ‘both sides’ are happy to talk politics over a beer, I promise I’ll write another post.
Author: Lotte Cloostermans