How I Apply Gottman’s Anecdote for Defensiveness

It was a busy evening at my Relationship Repair Shop…

This is the name I affectionately call my private practice in the suburbs of Washington DC.  Although it was over 7 years ago, I still remember the solution-focused approach I creatively tried out with a stuck client.

Influenced by Gottman’s research and writing about predictors for marital failure, I knew that Defensiveness was one of them!

The husband sitting in my office was a very successful small business owner.   Yet, when his wife brought up a complaint he looked like a deer in the headlights.  Like most people, he appeared as if he had no idea what to do!  After overcoming the initial shock of hearing his wife’s complaint, he then became defensive – explaining his mistakes and telling her why she should not be so sensitive!

Instead of taking responsibility, showing value, listening, and finding a resolution…

I am from a business-oriented entrepreneurial family, so I knew that this client probably had the skill set to show value, provide complaint resolution, and find solutions for his customers!

Suddenly, I found myself asking the husband about how he handles his customer complaints and commented on his strengths as a business owner.

The husband quickly gave me the rundown about how he effectively provides customer service.  He now appeared confident as he explained how he listens to his customers and shows understanding – then he inquires “What can I do to resolve this?”  I asked him if he defends his employees or explains why a mistake was made during customer complaint resolution.  Nope, he doesn’t do that with his customer.

In a quick solution-focused move, I asked the client what would happen if he were to use his strengths in business to apply similar complaint resolution strategies with his wife.

A light bulb came on in his head, and we practiced using a customer service response with his wife’s complaint.  He resolved her concern; and she felt valued and respected.

Using this solution-focused approach has become my Anecdote for Defensiveness. Gottman’s anecdote for defensiveness is to help a client to take responsibility.

However, I have found that a lot of people struggle with how to take responsibility.  This Customer Service solution-focused metaphor gives people an idea of what complaint resolution is supposed to look like.  After all, most people have either had to provide Customer Service at some time in their life or they have experienced good Customer Service.

I have a worksheet with six steps that people can walk through in order to take responsibility at the Customer Service Counter for their relationship.  What I call the “Relationship Repair Counter” has become a focal point for work with my clients, most of whom struggle with defensiveness to some degree.

Gottman’s marriage research found that good complaint resolution and not being defensive is a predictor for marital success.  Likewise, the most successful businesses also have amazing complaint resolution approaches.  They are influenced by their customers and show them value.

I have taught workshops and given speeches about the numerous ways that we can translate the concept of business customer service into our personal and workplace relationships for maximum success and value.  I construct my Relationship Repair Counter each time I speak, and I love helping my audience to practice role plays whereby they bring up complaints using Soft Start Up methods and then respond to complaints without defensiveness at the Repair Counter.

We all want to be valued in our relationships, and not just our customer relationships.  Receiving and providing complaint resolution and finding reconciliation with our helpmate, our family members, and our work team is truly the core of what makes us human.  After all, each of us has a deep yearning to know that we are loved and valued… not just when things are good but when we are feeling wounded, hurt, and concerned.

If you need more help with complaint resolution and opening up your Relationship Repair Counter, please Reach Out to one of our Relationship Repair Associates today!



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