Seven EX lessons from sex therapists... 

Lee Smith

22 March 2024
For this week’s EXpert Insights webinar we were joined on the EX Space couch by author, consultant and sex and relationship counsellor, Chantel Gautier, to talk about organisational psychology, workplace relationships and more. We had an interesting conversation which really got me thinking about the parallels between relationships at home and those in the workplace, a topic I have been reflecting on since.  
Of course, there can be a world of difference between our love lives and our work lives, but sometimes the two overlap (did you know that in the UK nearly one in five people met their partner at work?) and sometimes they collide (hands up if you’ve ever changed jobs following a relationship break down!)  

This is no surprise, of course. At their heart, organisations are little more than groups of people pursuing a common aim and sparks will always ignite when likeminded people spend a lot of time together.  

Like any relationship-based endeavour, success at work is all about navigating complex interpersonal dynamics, fostering team collaboration, building trust and tackling conflict, so it’s easy to see the common ground.  

Sex and relationship counsellors, or ‘sexologists’ as they’re sometimes known, specialise in helping individuals and couples navigate intimate relationships, but their insights can also be applied to the workplace with remarkable effectiveness. Let's explore some valuable lessons those of us operating in the employee experience, engagement and comms space – and the managers and leaders we support - can glean from this perhaps slightly unusual source…
Lesson 1. Communicate to create a strong connection:     
As anyone who has been to Relate will testify, sex and relationship therapists constantly emphasize the importance of open, honest communication in maintaining healthy relationships – and this is very much the route to connecting with your partner. Similarly, managers and leaders can benefit from mastering communication techniques that promote clarity, transparency, and understanding among team members. For example, a manager who actively listens to employee concerns, provides constructive feedback, and encourages open dialogue fosters a culture of trust and collaboration within the team. Connection is one of the nine universal themes of EX captured in our ground-breaking EX Lens model and effective communication is the key to this.  

Lesson 2. When times are tough strong conflict resolution skills make all the difference : 
Just as sex and relationship therapists help couples navigate disagreements and conflicts, managers and leaders must address conflicts within the workplace promptly, effectively and respectfully. By employing techniques such as active listening, empathy, and compromise, leaders can help resolve conflicts before they escalate. For instance, a manager who mediates a disagreement between two team members by encouraging them to express their perspectives and find common ground can prevent tension from impacting team productivity.  

Lesson 3.
Empathy and active listening can transform your relationships:Great sex and relationship therapists excel in empathising with their clients' emotions and experiences, which fosters trust and connection. Similarly, managers and leaders who demonstrate empathy and practice active listening can cultivate strong relationships with their team members and across the wider business. For instance, a leader who takes the time to understand the challenges faced by an employee and offers support or signposts resources demonstrates empathy and builds loyalty within the team.  

Lesson 4.
Creating a safe and inclusive environment: 
Sex and relationship therapists prioritize creating a safe and non-judgmental space for their clients to explore sometimes super-sensitive topics. In the workplace, managers and leaders can foster a similar environment within their teams by promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion and building psychological safety within their team. A leader who actively advocates for diversity initiatives and ensures that all team members feel listened to, appreciated and respected regardless of their background or identity cultivates a culture of inclusivity and belonging, which in terms enhances the employee experience.  Both appreciation and belonging are universal themes within our EX Lens model – fundamental building blocks for great EX.  

Lesson 5.
Understand individual needs and boundaries:
In the bedroom each person's needs and boundaries are unique and constantly evolving - success starts with understanding these and maintaining that understanding as they change.  Similarly, managers and leaders should take the time to really understand the individual strengths, preferences, hopes, dreams and limitations of their team members. For instance, a manager who accommodates flexible work arrangements to accommodate an employee's specific personal needs demonstrates respect for boundaries and promotes a healthy work-life balance within the team.   

Lesson 6.
Foster trust and intimacy:   Building trust and its foundation stone, intimacy, is essential in both personal relationships and professional settings. Sex and relationship therapists help their clients develop trust and intimacy by encouraging vulnerability and authenticity. Similarly, managers and leaders can foster trust within their teams by leading with integrity, being transparent about decisions, demonstrating humility and cultivating a supportive work environment where team members feel safe to ‘open up’ and share their ideas, as well as their concerns.   

Lesson 7.
It all starts with self-awareness:  
Sex and relationship therapists continually engage in professional development and self-reflection to enhance their skills and their understanding of human relationships. Likewise, managers and leaders should prioritize ongoing learning and self-awareness to effectively lead their teams. For example, a leader who regularly seeks feedback from peers and mentors, participates in leadership development programmes, and genuinely reflects on their personal leadership style can continuously improve their effectiveness as a leader.  For all of us, holding a mirror up to ourselves every now and again is vital.

In conclusion...

In conclusion, we can all glean valuable lessons from the practices of sex and relationship therapists to enhance our individual leadership skills, create a more positive EX and unlock engagement.

By incorporating principles such as effective communication, conflict resolution, empathy, inclusivity, and continuous self-improvement, we can build stronger, more mutually beneficial relationships within our teams and organisations.

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