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One of the ways that I pass the time when I am sick is to watch video clips on Facebook. I mostly watch bits of The Big Bang Theory and talk shows. One evening, I ran across an interview with Henry Winkler, who was talking about having been married for 40 years. The host asked Winkler for advice that he could offer. Winkler gave a brilliant two-item list.

First, he said, “You have to have the will. You have to want the marriage to work.” It’s a concept that I’ve been discussing in leadership workshops lately. In systems coaching, we call it caring about the 3rd Entity.

Two or more people together create a system. Their relationship, which we call the 3rd Entity, is completely unique to that group of people. It makes sense if you think about two people. Person A has needs, wants, and concerns. Person B has needs, wants, and concerns. Their relationship is the third piece of their system. The 3rd Entity (a.k.a. system and relationship) has its own needs, wants, and concerns.

Something might be great for Person A, but it’s important to also ask if it’s great for Person B. Even more important is to ask if it’s great for the 3rd Entity. In other words, would that something help or hurt the relationship?

For a system to work, everyone in the system must care about the health of the system. For example, if I am in an organization and I’m only concerned with my own well-being, I am not an asset to the organization. In that scenario, I only care about myself. I don’t give a hoot about the health of the 3rd Entity. Honestly, people with that sort of attitude are a huge detriment to the success of any group.

If we look at it from Winkler’s perspective, a marriage cannot work unless both people truly care about the health of the relationship and are willing to put its needs above their own when necessary. If one spouse doesn’t care about the marriage – doesn’t have the will or determination to work at maintaining it – then the marriage is doomed.

The second item that Winker listed was “ears.” He went on to explain that we say something to our spouses and think we are being clear in what we mean. However, the listening person often interprets the words differently. Winkler said that the listening spouse’s interpretation is the one that is valid. The speaker must accept that the intended message did not land as desired and that the interpretation is what the conversation must use as a foundation moving forward.

Many times we intend for our words to have a certain effect, but they don’t. For example, we could say something that is meant to be encouraging, but it’s taken to be patronizing. We think we are being clear, but our message can be interpreted in several different ways. There is a disconnect between our intent and the true outcome.

As a result, we want to be aware of people’s reactions to our words. If the reaction is not what we would expect given our intent, we need to ask the person what is going on for him or her. We notice by paying attention to people’s nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication includes facial expression, tone of voice, and body language. Any time that you’re getting a verbal or nonverbal message that doesn’t seem appropriate, check on it with the person.

I agree with Winkler’s assessment of the importance of accepting that the outcome of our words is not always in alignment with our intent. The relationship/system/3rd Entity cannot stay healthy unless each individual in it feels heard and valued.

He actually summarized the balance of systems coaching really well. We must protect and value both the 3rd Entity and the individuals of which it is comprised.

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