Life Practice 2: Relationship and Content

Paul Watzlawick once said that all statements contain an element of relationship and content. The familiar greeting, “how are you” is just that, a greeting. Relationship based, the speaker doesn’t really want to know how you are feeling; this statement merely acknowledges you, and you reply with “fine thank you, yourself” which is not meant as an evaluation of your mental or physical well-being. The same question asked by a medical professional would be content based as the speaker truly wants to hear the details of your ailments.

Another sample scenario of relationship and content extremes is that of a teenager in the kitchen complaining to their parent, “There is nothing to eat”. Clearly this well stocked kitchen has more than enough food, so the statement is not about the food. This is a relationship statement which translates to something like, “I am feeling sad and regressing and I want to be nurtured. I need your presence now”.

Applying relationship and content to social distancing

Working remotely is not for everyone. There are some who thrive in solitude and are glad to focus on work without interruptions. For these people it is about the work, which for our purposes translates into content. For them, documents and a computer is all that is required to complete the task at hand. They value the quiet time away from distractions.

Others thrive in a workplace where there is plenty of social interaction: face to face meetings; coffee breaks; and colleagues for commiserating. For these types relationship is a key job element. They thrive in an atmosphere of social collaboration.

Being able to name the elements you miss is a first step in dealing with any negative feelings arising from social isolation. For many, the work is the same and much can be done remotely. Ask yourself, “What does the shared office environment offer then that the home office doesn’t?” Content-focused isolators would reply something along the lines of laser printers, larger screen monitors and their ergonomic chair. Relationship-focused isolators would most likely offer people or interactive replies.

Knowing and naming what is important to you in terms of your work allows you to move on to the next step which is to assess the emotions and values accompanying those elements so that you can find a suitable substitute to satisfy those needs while maintaining physical isolation. If it is the people you are missing, this could involve reaching out to someone via video chat, phone call, or email. You could send and receive cards in the mail. Daily journaling could provide a substitute for a confidante. If it is the routine you are missing, stick to your workday hours while working remote. Maintain the separation between work duties and home activities. Dress in business casual as if going to the office. Keep weekends as days off. Resist checking email after hours.

Do you focus more on relationship or content? What’s missing for you right now?

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