Esther Perel

Each year, the Austin, TX-based South by Southwest Conference and Festival brings together a mind-blowing collage of presentations that feature everything from film, media, and music presentations to talks by cultural influencers and industry experts. This year, SXSW took place from March 8–17, 2019 and featured a number of dynamic keynote speakers including Esther Perel, a celebrated author, speaker, and therapist. Renowned as an expert in relationships, Esther focused her talk on how our relationship patterns don’t magically change when we enter the workplace.

Watch for yourself!

The shifting modern workplace

Esther began her talk by pointing out that whereas the ability to understand and navigate successful relationships used to be a sort of “soft skill,” it’s now become a major asset in the workplace to do several shifting factors.

  • The rise of expectations – Whereas we used to show up at work as a means to pay the bills, we now look to our jobs to help us find a sense of personal identity in the world.
  • Emotions – Emotions such as trust, empathy, loyalty, and ethical virtue are becoming much more highly prized with the rise of larger corporations within the global economy.
  • The shift from a production to a service-based economy – Esther notes that work relationships have evolved alongside personal relationships. Whereas we used to think of marriage and procreation in terms of producing heirs or more kids to help out on the farm, we now look to intimacy as a form of love and connection. Likewise, we now expect our jobs to provide more than just a paycheck, but also a sense of meaning.

Accessing your relational intelligence

Esther then goes on to identify three key components that often play a key role in the success of every business, as well as each individual employee. The quest for relational intelligence, she explains, has to do with the ability to find the line between:

  • Autonomy and interdependence – Esther points out that we were all raised within cultures, families, or environments that shape our ideas about what we can expect from others. Were you raised to believe that you have to do everything all by yourself? If so, this may affect your ability to litigate and be a team player, as well as stifle your urge to ask questions and receive feedback. Those who were raised to believe that relationships are central, however, often understand that it’s okay to depend on others. This type of employee tends to excel due to their openness to constructive criticism and the ability to ask for help in learning new skills.
  • Conflict management and communication –  Have you ever let someone else take credit for your accomplishment or taken the blame for someone else’s mistake? Learning how to respectfully speak up for yourself can help establish the trust between co-workers that are needed in a successful business environment. Once that trust is broken, it can shatter our perception of a relationship and our worth within it.
  • Self-awareness and accountability – Within any business environment, there are both people who tend to blame everyone else for their own problems and people who tend to blame themselves for everyone else’s problems. Both of these views require a certain amount of narcissism and neither are healthy for a constructive work environment. The key to navigating either is to focus on yourself and your actual, rather than perceived, role in any conflict. Rather than focus on others and what they did wrong, attempt to ask only what you could have changed in yourself to make the situation better. If you tend to be the type who never takes accountability, you will discover that you can only change others by first changing yourself. If you tend to take on too much blame, you may discover that what you can change is more along the lines of speaking up for yourself and clarifying when you find yourself being blamed for someone else’s mistake.

Be sure to check out SXSW to listen to other great speakers from this year’s conference!