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Can adopting the Magic Ratio and banishing The Four Horsemen help your team?

World leading researchers Dr John Gottman and Dr Julie Gottman have two techniques for developing positive relationships that can be applied equally well at home and work. Using “The Magic Ratio” as a guide for communication and managing “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” can help transform floundering relationships into flourishing ones.

What is “The Magic Ratio?”

When using the magic ratio communication strategy, we aim for at least five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. Researchers have found that by making a conscious effort to minimize the frequency of negative, hostile communications and increase the number of positive interactions, we can manage our relationships far more effectively when conflict arises. This magic ratio of 5:1 helps create positive, robust relationships at home and in the workplace.

How to boost the positive interactions

  • Catch the good. Notice and comment on positives

  • Look for opportunities for agreement

  • Empathise with others

  • Find opportunities for positive humour

  • Reflect on past positive achievements

Who are “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”

Researchers at the Gotttman Institute have identified four particularly damaging and negative communication patterns they call: “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The presence of these in a relationship can predict with over 90% accuracy whether couples will remain together or separate. Not surprisingly, these communication patterns are equally toxic to workplace relationships. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are:

  1. Criticism - attacking a person’s personality or character rather than focusing on a particular behavior.

  2. Contempt - expressing sarcasm, cynicism, name calling, insults, eye rolling, sneering, mockery and hostile humour. It is very destructive and is the greatest predictor of relationship breakdown.

  3. Defensiveness - expressing self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood to ward of a perceived attack. Whilst it can be natural to become defensive when being criticized, this does not help to solve the problem.

  4. Stonewalling – withdrawing completely from a conflict discussion and no longer engaging with the other person. It usually happens when a person is feeling emotionally overwhelmed or flooded, so their reaction is to shut down and withdraw.

Alternatives to the Four Horsemen:

  • Complain without blame by using a “soft start up”: it can be useful to avoid saying “you” which can indicate blame and use “I” statements and express what you need in a positive way.

  • Build a culture of appreciation and respect in relationships by doing small things often e.g., regularly expressing appreciation and respect to others.

  • Take personal responsibility for your part in a conflict to help move towards a compromise.

  • If feeling overwhelmed, take a 15-20-minute break by going for a walk or doing something distracting to calm down your nervous system.

  • Listen carefully to others and notice the positives.

So, do you think you can you tame The Four Horsemen and introduce The Magic Ratio to your workplace? If you would like to explore this or other topics with one of our Psychologists, why not book an appointment?


The Gottman Institute

Gottman, John (1994) Why Marriages Succeed or Fail

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