I am keenly interested in the topic of personal ownership and accountability. When I attended organizational and relationship systems training, we discussed the work of John Gottman PH.D. who coined the phrase, The Four Horsemen to describe specific types of “negativity that if allowed to run rampant will ruin a relationship.” The Four Horsemen are criticism & blame, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. In personal and work settings these behaviors are quite common. As we cultivate our leadership, it becomes critical that we practice being mindful and aware when these negative behaviors show up, and become curious about what is creating them.
Interestingly, the belief is that often the Four Horsemen signal some level or sense of powerlessness. That makes perfect sense to me. When I feel like I don’t have what I need to succeed at something, assert my needs, or get my needs met I have a choice in how I respond or react. I can look first at myself and evaluate the situation objectively determining my role or impact, or I can look outside of myself and blame my circumstances on external factors, including other people. I hope I do the former more often than the latter, and I know that being human means that I will get triggered and slip from time-to-time.
I recently had a personal situation where I felt attacked and I became defensive and felt the need to protect myself. There was a lot of emotion involved and the situation escalated quickly. I assert that there is a big difference between being confronted with a complaint vs. criticism and blame. Criticism and blame become less about specific behaviors and are a more global statement of character and personality. When one feels the first of the Four Horsemen come galloping on the scene, the problem becomes less about my behavior, choices, opinions and beliefs. I become the problem. I feel judged, wrong, bad…but only if I allow it.
My husband and I have been reading The Fifth Agreement. I have read the Four Agreements several times, and have found the second agreement to be especially helpful when being confronted with one of the Four Horsemen. The second agreement is “Don’t take anything personally.” Don Miguel Ruiz, speaks to the virtual reality that we all live in, and reminds us that the way in which someone responds to us is a manifestation or projection of their reality and it has little to do with us. I am reminded by his words that in any given moment I choose my own inner state and how I want to interact with the world. I have been struck the past few days with the paradox between “personal accountability” and “not taking things personally.”
As a way to sort it out, I created Deb’s Manifesto on Personal Accountability. Here is my commitment to myself: