Building on last week’s discussion on The Gottman Relationship Blog of maintaining a 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity (referenced by CNN in this article on Sunday), we will spend this week exploring shared meaning in the workplace. We will provide tools to find shared meaning in your relationships with your coworkers, giving you the opportunity for greater reflection on a subject that is often ignored.

Emotional connection requires finding common ground with other people, discovering shared values, and realizing that you derive meaning from the same types of activities. Additionally, it’s about honoring one another’s dreams and visions. We believe these things are as true in coworker relationships as they are in our marriages, our friendships, and our bonds with our kids and relatives.

In his book Principle-Centered Leadership, author Stephen R. Covey expresses how important it is for people to believe that their jobs are worthwhile. “People are not just resources or assets, not just economic, social, and psychological beings,” Covey writes. “They are also spiritual beings; they want meaning, a sense of doing something that matters. People do not want to work for a cause with little meaning, even though it tapes their mental capacities to their fullest. There must be pressures that lift them, ennoble them, and bring them to their highest selves.”

What happens when coworkers discover that they derive a shared sense of meaning from their jobs? They connect emotionally, which leads to stronger and more productive professional relationships. They’re more willing and able to work through conflicts that arise, solve problems together, and get things done.

Today we would like to share an exercise developed by Dr. Gottman to explore the meaning you derive from your work. Make sure that you set aside an uninterrupted block of time (when you are feeling up to it!) to go through these questions.

Exercise: What Does Your Job Mean to You?

Here’s a list of questions to consider in your relationships with coworkers. Answering them may help you to clarify issues related to trust, competition, closeness, and so on. As this type of exercise does with other relationships, it may also help to identify what you have in common with your coworkers in terms of your goals, values, and what you find meaningful in life. Discovering common ground in these areas may help you to establish stronger emotional connections, resulting in a better working relationship.

You can answer these questions on your own to gain insight into your perceptions of your relationships on the job, or, if you have one or more coworkers with whom you share a great deal of trust, you can study these questions together and share your answers with each other:

  • What does your job mean to you? What does it mean to you to provide your service or product?
  • What does it mean to be a good coworker?
  • What qualities go into creating a good work environment? Does you current job feel that way to you? If not, how could things change to make it feel that way?
  • What does it mean to be a part of a team? What are the costs and benefits of knowing that others rely on you to do your job well?
  • Are there things you’d like to change about the way you and your coworkers relate to each other? What changes would you like to make?
  • What role do ethics play in your job? What does it mean to do your job in an ethical way? What does it mean to treat your coworkers ethically?
  • What’s the most important thing you’d like to accomplish in your current job? How are your current relationships with your coworkers helping or hindering you?
  • What are your future career goals? How do your current job relationships affect your ability to achieve these goals?
  • How important to you is recognition? How do you like to be recognized and appreciated for a job well done (by your coworkers? by your boss?)
  • How is your job performance evaluated? How is that evaluation process communicated to you? What do you like or not like about this process?
  • Should people set different boundaries for friendships they form at work? If so, what should these boundaries be? Under what circumstances might those boundaries be crossed or changed?
  • What is the role of intimacy in work-related friendships? How much sharing is enough? How much is too much?
  • What about confidentiality among coworkers? Should coworkers have stricter rules about telling and keeping secrets than other kinds of friends have?
  • Should coworkers be able to count on one another for emotional support in times of stress? If you’re having a bad day, should you keep your feelings to yourself or tell others and ask for their support?
  • How important is it to find a balance amid the demands of work, friends, and family? Should the job be made family-friendly to help achieve that balance?
  • What is the role of fun in work-related relationships? Is it okay to be playful or silly on the job?

Take some time to consider these questions, and any others that may come up as you read through the list. Thoughts? Reactions? Join the conversation on our Facebook page

Source: Gottman, John M., and Joan DeClaire. The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Relationships. New York: Crown, 2001. 299-301.


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The Workplace: What Does Your Job Mean To You?

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.