Sam Radford

October 16, 2022

Turning towards

I listened to an episode of Brené Brown’s ‘Unlocking Us’ podcast last week where her guests were Drs. John and Julie Gottman. They have studied relationships for years, and their insights were fascinating.

Though they were primarily talking in the context of couples, one thing they shared made so much sense to me across multiple contexts. I’ve been talking to my girls about it and how it’d help their relationship as sisters. And it applies to friendships, parenting, and working relationships too.

The Gottman’s spoke of the concept of ‘turning towards’ as being a powerful connector. It’s about how we respond to another person’s bids for our attention and connection.

When someone reaches out to us, do we:

  • turn towards,
  • turn away, or
  • turn against?

Turning towards might be as simple as engaging with what they’re showing us or mentioning to us and saying, ‘wow – that’s fantastic!’.

Turning away is when we do nothing. We ignore it when someone is trying to get our attention. Maybe we continue looking at our phone, hoping they’ll leave us alone.

Turning against goes a step further. We bite back when someone reaches out, saying, ‘Stop interrupting me – I’m busy’, or something along those lines.

But here’s the question: How much time does it take to say, ‘wow – that’s fantastic’? A few seconds. And yet the other person feels noticed, recognised, acknowledged. 

Small things make a big difference.

Relationships – and, again, their main focus is couples – that are successful are those where both people choose to turn towards most of the time.

Like I say, I think the application of this is broader. How many of our relationships would be enhanced significantly if we made regular, simple choices to turn towards when those around us bid for our attention?

There’s lots more they discuss in the episode that I haven’t covered here – like, what about when I am genuinely busy? How do I handle that in a way that doesn’t push others away? – so I’d recommend having a listen.


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About Sam Radford

Husband, father, lover of books, writer, tech geek, sports fan, and pragmatic idealist from Sheffield, England.