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No One Will Tell You Exactly How to Get Over an Ex, So I Will

No One Will Tell You Exactly How to Get Over an Ex, So I Will

It’s that time of year: turkeys are being deep-fried, Christmas party invites are going out… and you can’t stop thinking about your ex. Who is he bringing to Thanksgiving instead of you? What douchebag will be putting some cheesy trinket under the tree for her this year? Your heart breaks just imagining it, even though you haven’t been together in weeks. If only you could wave a wand and stop the pain.

We’ve all been there, but thanks to John Gottman’s pioneering work at the University of Washington Love Lab, you don’t have to be a character in a Wham! video anymore. I’m about to teach you a reverse lifehack that will systematically destroy all longing for the person who broke up with you. Note: this isn’t for the faint of heart; like all those spells from Once Upon a Time, it’s not easily reversed and comes with a hefty price. So, if you think there’s even the remotest chance of you getting back together, don’t try this.

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One of the pillars of Gottman’s work, highlighted in Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink, are what he calls the Four Horsmen of a relationship “apocalypse”: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. These are the things that take down relationships, by eroding the attraction and affection that drew you together in the first place. One of the hardest things to do when a relationship ends, especially if you are the “dumpee” or if there was a betrayal that came out of nowhere, is to stop seeing the person through rose-colored glasses. If you want to erase all those warm and loving feelings for someone you’re really better off without, you can deliberately engage Gottman’s Four Horsemen in a session of “mental calisthenics” to turn your heart in another direction (do not try this exercise in person; use a journal, meditate, or just turn it over in your mind while you’re going about your day). As you practice these four steps, your tenderness toward The One That Got Away will magically become apathy for Somebody That You Used To Know. Again, do not try this if you are “taking a break” – engaging the Four Horsemen is not something to be done lightly, as it will plant a seed of discord in your heart for your ex that will likely be irreversible!

Horseman One: Criticism

Think about all the things that bothered you about your ex. Be as critical as you can possibly be, to the point of ridiculousness. Go to your darkest place and think about all the things that bothered you at first, but that you let slide because you were “in love.” Was his comb-over a little too Donald Trump? Did he wear New Balance sneakers with acid wash jeans before you took him shopping? Did he have any style or taste before you? How about her muffin top? Wasn’t it annoying how she never found time to get on a treadmill, but always had time to binge on Netflix with a bowl of potato chips? Didn’t you hate it when she laughed about your aviator sunglasses, while rocking those ridiculous Mary-Kate Olsen knockoffs? Be as critical as you can possibly be. Make a list if you need to (but burn it – trust me, you don’t want that list being seen by anyone but you).

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Horseman Two: Defensiveness

Now, put yourself on the witness stand. Get all up in your self-righteousness, and defend whatever things your ex might have been critical of. Maybe he broke up with you because he claimed you stopped taking care of yourself. Wasn’t it because you were so busy picking up his socks or hello, taking care of his children? How can he say that?! Did she complain that you didn’t have a good enough job? I guess we can’t all prostitute ourselves for a raise or have Daddy’s friends give us internships at Ivy League start ups, right? She didn’t understand you at all – some people have to work for a living! Again – go there, be hyperbolic. Get up on your high horse and defend yourself like your ex is trying to make a federal case out of why you deserved to be dumped.

Horseman Three: Contempt

Gottman often refers to Contempt as the best predictor of divorce, because it puts another person in a position that is lower than you, and you cannot be a partner with someone you cannot see as your equal. Cultivating contempt for an ex is a very powerful kind of brainwashing, because it disables you from ever seeing them as someone you could be on the same level with. To cultivate contempt for your ex, you have to be more than critical – you have to be downright insulting. Contempt is a personal attack that tears down another person. It’s not, “She always left these gross piles of hair in the shower;” it’s “She was a disgusting slob who didn’t even value basic cleanliness.” He’s not “a guy who always flirts with other women;” he’s “a philandering misogynist who only sees women as objects.” Contempt takes criticism a step further by reducing a person to a stereotype or object. It removes their humanity and allows you to reject them as a lesser being who isn’t on your level.

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Horseman Four: Stonewalling

Stonewalling is the final step in the end of a relationship: complete and total disengagement. It’s when you put up a figurative “stone wall” between you and another person, completely shutting them out. When you’re trying to get over an ex, this means complete and total disengagement. If you’re in the same social circle, it doesn’t mean being a jerk; on the contrary, it means just not having anymore meaningful conversations with them, not sending them a Christmas card (do you really want to see a picture of him and his new wife in ugly sweaters anyway?). It means disconnecting – cutting off all the unnecessary “casual” ties you’ve maintained up until now. This person no longer has a reason to be an integral part of your life. For your own mental health, keep them at a deliberate distance. And yes, you should de-friend her on Instagram and Facebook. Scanning her selfies isn’t going to get you over her any faster, dude.

In the beginning, this process may feel like “Sour Grapes,” and yes, using the Four Horsemen to get over an ex might seem extreme. If you’re still wasting your life and your energy mourning the past, you’re closing off any chance of future happiness with someone who is right for you. So move on!

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One caveat: now that you’re familiar with the Four Horsemen, do your best to keep them out of your next relationship. If you find yourself being critical of the future Mr. or Mrs. You, getting defensive about your life choices, personally attacking who they are, or shutting them out when you don’t want to hear them out, you’ll quickly find yourself on the road to another breakup!

Nobody wants to go through that again, right?

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Featured photo credit: showmeholly via flickr.com

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

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Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

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