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Esther Perel’s Couples Therapy Just Solved Organizational Relationships

Esther Perel’s Couples Therapy Just Solved Organizational Relationships

I love Esther Perel. Her podcast Where Should We Begin gives an inside look as real couples navigate their relationship issues that seem largely centered around sex. When I heard she was speaking at SXSW about workplace relationships my curiosity as a positive psychology practitioner was piqued. How would sex therapy translate to organizational wellbeing? An organization’s wellbeing depends on the same domains as individual wellbeing:

  • purpose
  • relationship
  • accomplishment
  • engagement
  • emotions
  • health

Her talk titled What Business Leaders Can Learn About Workplace Dynamics from Couples Therapy is all about navigating relationships and cultivating relational fluency which, according to Perel,  is equally important at home and at work. Here’s a brief summary of Esther’s key points. I highly recommend watching the entire talk.

Each of us carries specific narratives which guide our needs and expectations – how we connect to others, how we define trust, and how we engage or avoid conflict. Most importantly, these inner stories determine how we communicate and elicit curiosity and collaboration. We don’t magically become different people when we walk into our office. Once considered a “soft skill” in the workplace, relational intelligence is now one of the top currencies of business success. Her question to us:

How much are we investing in our relationships at work

Esther points out that

  • 65% of start ups fail due to relationship issue between founders
  • The quality of our relationships at work determines the actual quality of our work and our overall ability to success.
  • Unlike performance, relationships are hard to measure, sustain, and repair.

Relational intelligence refers to:

  • Our ability to connect with others
  • How we connect and form trust
  • How we engage in or avoid conflict

Some parallels between relationships at home and at work

  • The rise of expectations- never before have we expected so much from our career or our partner. We want flexibility, we want our workplace to be attentive to our wellbeing and we want our jobs to help us find a sense of meaning and purpose (pretty tall order!)
  • We now bring emotional capital into the workplace. We are encouraging emotions at the workplace. Authenticity, trust, belonging, transparency and psychological safety are common workplace discussions
  • We have shifted from a production economy to a service economy. We no longer go to work to put bread on the table, we work to fulfill ourselves.


Every relationship deals with

  • Autonomy and interdependence
  • Conflict management and communication
  • Self- awareness and accountability

We all grow up with a relational culture. Our beliefs about what we can expect from people form the lens through which we view our relationships at work.

  • Were relationships central to life?
  • Do you believe that you are the only one you can rely on in this world?

Every system from living ecosystems to families to organizational systems is balancing:

  • Commitment and freedom
  • Stability & change
  • Togetherness & individuality

Often in a relationship there is one person who is more in touch with a fear of losing the other and one more afraid of losing themselves. The one afraid of abandonment will be eager to please and quick to give in, The other will be stubborn and afraid of giving in.

Every relationship involves both explicit and implicit communication.

  • Power and control
  • Closeness
  • Care and Recognition

Under relational impasses it is often not what is being talked about bit the power struggles for power, recognition

THE GOLDEN RULE- If you want to change the other, start by changing yourself.

Why Is It So Hard to Be Nice To Yourself? The Science of Self-Compassion in the Classroom and in Life

Why Is It So Hard to Be Nice To Yourself? The Science of Self-Compassion in the Classroom and in Life

Teachers often come to self-compassion work looking to help their students to be a little easier on themselves. It might be a seed planted after a crisis like a suicide or when they hear (once again) the nauseating stats around teen depression, anxiety, and debilitating levels of stress. (1 in 4) Parents and educators alike want to help kids to feel less compulsion around getting straight A-s, getting into an Ivey, or graduating at the top of their class. Social media isn’t to blame and yet when a maturing person with an under-developed pre-frontal cortex (decision-making part of the brain) is tasked with homework, volunteer work, sport, music, and a navigating the complexity of social life, it’s easy to see how anyone can get caught up in behaviours that range from self-deprecating to self-sabotaging.

What is Self-Compassion

The science of self-compassion is new. Most of the research is less than 15 years old. Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer are the reigning experts and their site SelfCompassion.org offers a wealth of resources. Eighty percent of us are more kind to others than we are to ourselves. 80%!  Self-compassion happens when you treat yourself in a way that is:

  • Kind
  • Gentle
  • Forgiving
  • Open-hearted

Self-compassion feels expanding and it provides you with permission to be imperfect, or perfectly imperfect as I like to say.

Why Be Self-Compassionate?

People often see their lack of self-compassion as motivating. They also mistake self-compassion for self-indulgence. Self-compassion has even been labeled as weak. I like to remind adults that modeling self-compassion is really the only sure-fire way to show the younger people in your life how to treat themselves. Telling you child or a student not to be so hard on themselves rings untrue and inauthentic is we aren’t living self-compassionately first.

What Does Self-Compassion Look Like?

Mindfulness versus over-identification. This refers to an individual’s ability to recognize something without catastrophizing. In the case of a student, one C in biology can send them on a downward spiral where they now won’t get in to University and now the rest of their life is ruined because all they have ever wanted to do is practice medicine. Seeing the C as one mark on one test rather than an indicator of potential or latent ability is self-compassion.

Common humanity versus isolation. We are all in this together. We all experience some successes and some failures. We all feel sad or angry at times. When an experience connects rather than disconnects you, you are being self-compassionate.

Self-kindness versus self-judgment. When you make mistakes and use a growth mindset to see them as part of the process rather than proof that you are somehow inadequate you are offering yourself kindness.  Our youth need reminders that part of being human and growing up is learning to do hard things.

How Self-Compassionate Are You?

If you are curious about how your own self-compassion rates, take this online assessment.

If you need to improve your self-compassion, know that you are not alone! There are many simple ways to get better at treating yourself with respect.

  • Talk to yourself like a self-compassionate person would. “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. Let me be kind to myself in this moment”
  • There are a variety of guided meditations that follow a loving kindness philososphy. I love these ones on Chris Germer’s site.
  • Using Soothing Touch. Our bodies are wired to release compassion inducing chemicals like

oxytocin when we feel skin to skin contact. Hold your own hand. Give yourself a gentle brow, cheek, and chin massage. O r give yourself a hug. These all release opiates that help regulate moods.

Self-Compassion is good for you.

People who are self-compassionate are also more motivated, more proactive and less likely to procrastinate. They are more compassionate to others and they are more able to cope with life’s difficult moments.

What is the Difference Between Kindness and Self-Compassion?

They sound an awful lot alike however compassion prompts action which leads to elevating the suffering.

One More Reason (this one isn’t about you)

Research on mirror neurons has shown that we have something called empathic resonance. This means the sadness we feel on behalf of someone else is not less than our personal sadness. The reverse is also true. The emotions you are experiencing are contagious to those around you. You might be unintentionally spreading your emotional heaviness to your family, your friends and your colleagues. In the words of author Jack Kornfield

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete”