The Powerful Yet Simple Secret of High Engagement Leadership Communication


Is the Real Key to High Engagement Leadership The Same One That Unlocks Healthy Couplehood?


As a seasoned professional counselor and organization development consultant, I've always had the sense that when it comes to the human side of organizations, there’s really no clear boundary between these two roles.  

When it comes to building active employee engagement and reversing the incredibly destructive and costly effects of active employee disengagement, the critical stress point in your organizational culture is fundamentally located at the employee-manager interface. More specifically it's located in the conversations that take place or don't take place there. 

High engagement leadership is all about the quality of the conversations and social exchanges that you have with your employees. It’s all about crafting the kind of positive emotional bonding experiences that couples’ counselors use to help save and positively transform dysfunctional marriage and family relationships.

But it's more about organizational bonding than interpersonal bonding. That is, it's about bonding based on shared organizational values and culture. 

A recent management tips post from the Harvard Business Review actually quotes evidence-based research from the world’s leading couples counseling scientist Dr. John Gottman without actually citing him as the researcher behind the formula.

The article basically offers 3 tips on how managers and team leaders need to communicate and relationship build with their employees.  All 3 tips are rooted in Dr. Gottman’s now famous  5:1 rule of effective couples’ communication.

Dr. Gottman is the relationship scientist who developed a method of predicting relationship failure and divorce with over 90% accuracy based on how a couples communicates about their hot button issues over just a 3-5 minute observation period. 

The article starts by suggesting that managers look at every social exchange as an opportunity to learn more about and connect with their employees as individual human beings.  

They also suggest that people naturally seek positive emotional connection and experiences through mircro- “bids” (Jon Gottman’s term) for attention and positive reinforcement through “questions, gestures and looks”. 

They go on to state that managers need to focus on developing their sensitivity and responsiveness to these social connection cues.

It's recently been shown that the #1 reason even the best organizations are hemorrhaging top talent is because these employees think their boss is a jerk. You can't imagine how many times I've heard similar, less socially appropriate statements in my counseling room! 

Finally the HBR management tips post concludes by saying:

Research shows that the ratio of positive to negative interactions is 5:1 in a successful relationship. You don’t need to pay someone five compliments before offering criticism, but do be mindful of the ratio.”

This 5:1 positive relationship principle is really key here. The basic idea is that the most emotionally healthy couples actually experience or share 5 emotionally positive verbal or social exchanges for every 1 negative 1.

For example, if there’s been a heated disagreement over money management or a recent augment with the in-laws, there will be a supportive complement, some highly effective emotionally active listening, some extra help with the housework and an affectionate giving-in to each other’s decision choice.  

Here’s how Dr. Gottman explaining his 5:1 rule in his own words:








I agree that yes, there are many similarities between the relationship dynamics at the manager employee interface in an organization and the partner to partner interface in healthy couplehood. After all, these are both Person to Person Relationships and this is the P2P Engagement Blog!

Yet with a background in couples' counseling I also have to add that it's very important to keep work relationships emotionally healthy through the setting up of clear boundaries. These are boundaries that distinguish between professional and unprofessional emotional relationships in the workplace, in order to to help quell the epidemic of work related emotional and sexual affairs. 


"The Quality of The Conversation Determines The Quality of The Leadership" - Bluepoint Leadership Development.

An truly epic short leadership development video I found recently, posted by Bluepoint Leadership Development, clearly and succinctly captures the essence of high engagement leadership in a purely healthy organizational context. 

This video offers a thought provoking, fast and easy to use checklist for assessing the quality of your conversations and your capacity to cultivate active engagement as a leader, manager or team leader. 

It's basic premise is the same as Jon Gottman's magic relationship formula but in an organizational context; - that effective organizational and team leadership is all about seeing the dozens of conversations we have each day as high leverage opportunities to create connection and organizational bonding and to mitigate organizational dysfunction and disengagement: 

Leadership Conversation - 10 Point Quality Checklist:


1. Do you welcome challenging emotional issues or avoid these? 

2. Do you routinely invite coaching and feedback or are you closed to this information? 

3. Are you genuinely appreciative and affirming of others or do you just simply flatter them? 

4. Do you embrace differences and diversity or gravitate only toward like minded people? 

5. Do you frequently blame and criticize others or readily embrace your personal responsibility?

6. Are you totally empathetic and present or distracted, detached and self absorbed? 

7. Do you provide feedback to truly help others or to fix and correct them? 

8. Do you have a natural optimistic bias or one that is negative and pessimistic? 

9. Are you open, vulnerable and truly seeking to learn or dogmatic and defensive? 

10. Do you seek to influence and educate others or sell and persuade them? 









Image courtesy of: Victor 1558
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