Mention the word “intimacy” and a lot of pictures come to mind. They usually involve two people between the sheets (hereinafter referred to as BTS), getting to know everything about each other.
As this Valentine’s season comes and goes, I’d like to expand the concept to include everyday relationships.
Really? Intimacy with my brother-in-law? With my fellow workers? With the guy who slathers cream cheese on my bagel?
Why not? Take away the BTS visualization, and what’s left?
Per social psychologists, intimacy refers to a process of interaction in which social partners, as a result of sharing personal and private thoughts and feelings, come to feel understood, appreciated, and cared for by each other. This certainly aids in BTS situations, or BTS situations can aid the intimacy process. But it’s not required, and being BTS does not always lead to intimacy. (But that’s a subject for another day.)
Part of my work usually revolves round getting teams to work better together. We spend a lot of time and energy understanding that all of us come with pre-programmed truths (the “knower”/“judger” (“K/J”) that allow us to judge situations quickly and, for the most part, in our best interests. But occasionally our judgments derail our relationships. In today’s political cauldron it’s easy to get cross-haired with someone by making a comment I might believe to be totally innocuous, but in (my) fact is totally true. If examined under the microscope of whether the other person feels understood, appreciated, or cared for, it’s possible that our K/Js match up and it works. It’s also totally possible that their K/J rules are the polar opposite of mine and BOOM! We’re off and running.
It’s my interpretation that defining a relationship between two human beings based on their individual K/Js carries a lot of risk. Oh, if I’m at a Cardinals baseball game surrounded by fans all dressed in red outfits with “Birds on the bat,” I think I could be fairly safe yelling “GO, CARDS!”. My K/J matches up with everyone else’s in my immediate environment. So the K/J to K/J connection (at least for this verbal transaction) probably works.
Likewise, were I in Wrigley Field in Chicago at a Cards–Cubs game and I yelled “GO, CARDS,” I could have a beer poured down my Wainwright jersey. (My Cubs fan friends would say I should have a beer poured down my jersey!)
It’s easy to build a case around something as polar as Cards–Cubs or Trumpers–Never-Trumpers. My observation of real life is that most K/J conflicts aren’t that obvious. And they’re sometimes colored by agendas of one party, the other party, or both. I think we tend to internalize our K/J rules as “universal truths” that we naively think everybody shares… or at least should share.
Can you see how our assumptions about others can kill intimacy, that feeling of being understood, appreciated, and cared for?
So how can we develop intimacy with fellow teammates, family members, and the general population when it serves us (and BTS)?
I try to approach situations from my “learner” /“researcher” (“LR”)—that part of my persona that does not require me to know what to expect. That temporarily sets aside my K/J rules in order to understand the other person’s K/J rules and eliminates the “shoulds” from my side of the conversation. I’ve also observed I can’t do that on auto-pilot. If left to simply reacting to an interaction, like most, I’m left with shooting from the hip of my K/J. If I’m lucky, it matches up with the other person, and we’re at least working together. Not sure if we’ve established intimacy, but we could feel mutually understood, appreciated, and cared for. It’s possible.
If I withhold my K/J prejudices and listen to the other person’s K/J, then I stand a chance at understanding where they’re coming from, appreciating their sources of education on the subject, and caring that we can now explore our differences meaningfully. My non-offensive approach (withholding my K/J rules the other person may not share) allows dialog to open.
Leaving out the BTS situations, can you see how establishing understanding, appreciation, and care would have you on a better working plane with your fellow team members? Family? Even spouse (tossing BTS back into the mix!).
It’s my firm belief that this broader application of intimacy can be the key to fantastic working situations where the outcome is equal to more than the sum of its parts. I’ve watched it happen. It’s the condition in play when sports teams perform way over what their record would predict. It’s people working from their L/R personas allowing their K/J voices to be subdued for the sake of the mission.
Don’t believe it?
Ask your spouse or significant other whether they’d rather hear “I love you” or “I understand you,” “I appreciate you,” or “I care for you.”
And Happy Valentine’s Day!