The fourth level of the Sound Relationship House is The Positive Perspective. In the Sound Relationship Workplace, I’ve termed this level Perception Becomes Reality. This level is not one that my clients and I work on directly, but rather it is defined by the status and emotional climate of the first three levels.

Perception Becomes Reality is how positively or negatively you and your colleagues feel about each other. Positive Sentiment Override (PSO) determines a lot of things in a relationship, including the presence of positive affect in problem solving discussions and the success of repair attempts during conflict resolution. If the first three levels of the Sound Relationship Workplace are not working, then people may find themselves in the Negative Sentiment Override (NSO), in which even neutral or positive messages are perceived as negative. Colleagues in the NSO see their coworker as an adversary, not a friend. It is only possible to change NSO to PSO by using the first three levels of the Sound Relationship Workplace.

When the first three levels are strong between two people and perception is favorable, creativity and innovation have true opportunity to flourish. The lens through which you view your colleagues is very much impacted by whether you Develop Colleague Maps, Provide Positive Feedback, and Respond and Engage to bids.

Bob Weiss at the University of Oregon found that when couples are in the positive perspective, they give their partner the benefit of the doubt. On the flip side, when they are in the negative perspective, partners are hypersensitive and take things much more personally. They interpret words or behaviors based on a “global dimension of affection or disaffection” that has been developed. Dr. Gottman says these couples are “imprisoned in a roach motel… they check in but they don’t check out.” This concept is the same with people in the workplace.

I have witnessed many people at work who are in the NSO with one person and in PSO with another at any given moment in time. It can be detrimental to team dynamics.

So how can you address NSO amongst coworkers? Start by looking at the first three levels of the Sound Relationship Workplace. They will offer clues as to what needs to change to help shift into positive perception. However, simply focusing on developing colleague maps, providing positive feedback, and responding and engaging to bids may not help move you. It is also very important for colleagues to be able to accept influence and repair their negative interactions. It should be no surprise that managing conflict is key for successful relationships in the workplace.

As in marital conflict, there are different types of conflicts that surface in the workplace. Some conflicts are resolvable. Specific techniques that can be employed to help resolve these “solvable” conflicts include a softened start-up, accepting influence, and compromise. Other conflicts are perpetual in nature because of differences in personality, interests, preferences, and needs. These unsolvable conflicts require establishing a dialogue to open the discussion between the two people. Whatever type of conflict present, solvable or unsolvable, the more positive the emotion between the two people involved, the easier it will be to address the conflict. The stronger the first three levels of the Sound Relationship Workplace, the more positive the emotion between colleagues, the easier it is to promote effective conflict regulation.

I’ve found that in the workplace, most problems are solvable when they are task related. In the workplace, when conflict is gridlocked, there is usually a deeper meaning behind each person’s position. People may be talking about one thing but underneath their respective positions, there is something else going on. That “something else” is the meaning behind each person’s position, which often has to do with a value that they hold dear. Dr. Gottman calls this a dream within conflict. Compromising can feel almost impossible in these situations unless the underlying dream for each person is addressed.

Next week I will discuss how to manage conflict and how to eliminate the four horsemen in the workplace. Stay tuned.

More in The Sound Relationship Workplace
Perception Becomes Reality

Karen Bridbord, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and consultant in New York and New Jersey. She is a Certified Gottman Therapist who specializes in working with couples and organizations.