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The Science of Business Love

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

Let me share what businesses can learn from “The Science of Love” by John Gottman.

Since about one third of life is spent with co-workers, these relationships often become very close – and in some cases – closer than in a marriage. John Gottman’s Venice Beach TED Talk “The Science of Love,” a 3-year-old video with 1.5M views, explores taking the mystery out of the magic of love. If you work closely with a business partner, then this synopsis of the “Science of Love” can help you keep the peace in your work relationships. I have seen so many work relationships fracture – fracture to the point of being unable to reconcile differences. With Gottman’s observations of love and my observations of business relationships, you will walk away with new tools for navigating close relationships of any kind.

Gottman’s Observations of Great Relationships Gottman describes what good relationships look like and how we benefit from them. He observes that great friendships and love relationships have several positive results.


Results from great romantic relationships:

  • Greater health

  • Greater wealth

  • Greater resilience

  • Faster recovery from illness

  • Greater longevity

  • More successful children

Similar Trends Found in Business Relationships Good business relationships lead to wellness and prosperity, like the romantic relationships in Gottman’s examples. As a business coach, I have observed how so many business professionals have experienced positive results from great working relationships. Time and time again, I see the following results, when clients improve business relationships.

Results from great business relationships:

  • Less absenteeism & turnover

  • Greater profitability

  • Market resilience

  • Adaptability

  • Greater endurance

  • Succession

With stable relationships, I see that business owners are able to look ahead and think about succession. Rather than getting caught in the mire of conflict, CEOs are able to focus on the legacy and resources that will be passed on to the next generation. Let’s take a closer look at Gottman’s analysis to see what we can learn from business partner interactions.

Gottman’s Predictive Ratio According to Gottman, the first three minutes of a conversation between romantic partners can predict 96% of the time the outcome of the relationship. He makes this evaluation by measuring the ratio of positive to negative indicators. His research shows that the optimum ratio of positive to negative indicators is 5 to 1. This means that in a great, stable relationship, there would be at least 5 positive remarks for every negative 1. Most people believe you could have a 1 to 1 ratio. Gottman says 5:1 is necessary, not 1:1 as most people instinctively believe. According to this ratio, a couple’s future happiness depends on the initial conversation having 5 compliments for every 1 criticism. In Business In the business world, I have noticed how conversations with coworkers can carry a similar weight. To help improve the predictors of business relationships, I created a list of some indicators I have noted when consulting with clients.

Positive Indicators

​Negative Indicators

Trust

Distrust

​Respect

Disrespect

Gung Ho enthusiasm

​Unpleasant arguments

Uplifting humor

Unappreciated sarcasm

I am sure you have witnessed dozens of complaints from employees which are all negative indicators.


As I noted earlier, we can identify similar relational trends from the realm of love and the world of business. To use Gottman’s predictive ratio to improve the workplace, I suggest you focus on column 1, remembering to create 5 positives for every negative – and this best starts at the top of the organization.


Gottman’s Trio of Love

According to Gottman, in any relationship there are three areas (the “powerful trio”) of the magic of love: Calm, Trust, Commitment.


Calm – When physiologically calm, the brain is more likely to take in information, and listening, empathy, and reassurance are enhanced. Turbulence predicts conflict.


Trust – When there is mutual trust, both partners maximize benefits for both people. Trust leads to intimacy, and distrust leads to loneliness.


Commitment – When there is commitment: you cherish the other party, you are nurturing gratitude for what you have.


When you have this trio, and you are saying to your spouse “This is my journey; this is the love of my life.” You believe you are lucky to have your partner. Commitment leads to loyalty. Betrayal leads to dissolution of the relationship.


In Business

It’s easy to apply the trio to the business world: calm, trust and commitment. In business relationships, you can pursue the calm when you to listen to the other party; the 5th habit of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits describes effective listening. Trust is a key component of business, because you can’t exchange ideas or communicate clearly when you are unsure of how you will be received. Commitment to the company is also critical – especially in leadership roles.


In good work relationships, you are proud to be coworkers and celebrate what your company is accomplishing. You want to pursue the company’s mission together.


Let’s see what businesses can do to reduce work conflict or prevent scenarios that could cause a partnership dissolve.


Gottman’s Guide for Repairing Relationships

Gottman offers 3 simple repair actions for relationships that are starting to experience friction.

You can bridge those moments of building contention with some basic steps.


  1. Repair early in the conversation.

  2. Turning toward your partner.

  3. Injecting positive humor.

Expediting Repairs for Business Relationships

As I observe work relationships, especially those with leaders, I see how helpful it could be to utilize Gottman’s repairs. But there are a few more repairs I would add – steps that could save relationships, create a positive culture, and ultimately protect the company.


  • Keep the goal of a successful relationship a higher priority than winning or self-pride

  • Eliminate the word “should” from your vocabulary; eliminate negative judgment from the discussion.

  • Start the conversation over when caught in an unending argument.

  • Be lavish with your compliments. Remember the 5 to 1 ratio.

  • Do these repairs unilaterally without your expectation of the other partner doing them too or responding favorably


Think about how your business might falter if you are in a work relationship that goes south. You might be able to systematically improve your relationships by enhancing the interactions with repairs. We could call this “the Science of Business Love.”


Be lovely,


Doug



P.S. Do you have any business relationship repairs to add to this list? Comment below.

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