After working with more than 30,000 individuals and 3,000 couples in developing their unique approach to creating healthy relationships, Gay and Kathlyn (“Katie”) Hendricks are today considered among the world’s foremost experts on relationship dynamics and body-mind integration. Coauthors of such bestsellers as Lasting Love and Spirit-Centered Relationships, the good doctors also cowrote Conscious Loving, which is used as a textbook in many graduate programs throughout the country. Their work has been reviewed or mentioned in journals including Self, GQ, Psychology Today, Yoga Journal and USA Today, and the couple has appeared on such shows as Oprah, CBS’s 48 Hours and CNBC’s Real Personal. They consider themselves “our own best customers in the creation of conscious relationships,” and their sense of delight in each other and their work together is palpable; they are among the few relationship experts who work and present publicly together. We sat down to talk with Gay and Katie about relationships in business, and were immediately impressed with their easy warmth, intelligence, and profound sense of joy and ongoing discovery in their work. — J.D.M.

How did your individual paths come together to form what is your work today?

Katie: When we met, I was a board-certified dance movement therapist, Gay was a professor of counseling psychology at the University of Colorado—and we were both very interested in developing an organic, body-wisdom approach to transformation.

This was our passion. We were both deeply interested in what happens when people open up to their own discovery and in how we could assist people to do that.

Gay had been keenly interested in conscious breathing, and I of course was keenly interested in movement. When we met, we both said, “This is a perfect dance of the whole human being,” and we asked ourselves how we could continue to discover together, both in our relationship and also in our work.”

Gay: We also both knew that the whole field of marriage counseling and relationship problem-solving had been stuck for a long time. In this old paradigm, couples talk and talk about their problems without any kind of resolution, so they go into counseling … and then talk about those things some more. Often this leads to no results whatsoever.

It’s a little like trying to escape your problems by eating, or watching TV, or smoking and drinking. In fact, if you overeat you will divert your attention for a short period of time—but not for long, because it doesn’t take you into a higher state of consciousness.

People need to have a shift of consciousness, a shift that takes them out of the domain in which these problems occur and gives them a different place to connect.

When you connect through things like breathing, movement and other body-centered transformation tools, it’s almost like you’re opening up into a new sensory system or new way of seeing, where you can see your problems but don’t have to actually engage them.

So where the paradigm has been stuck is that people just find other ways of engaging the problem.

Katie: It’s always in the same context, which is the context of the problem itself. It’s as if you’re in your backyard patio, and you just move the chairs around to different positions. You think you’re in a different place, and don’t realize that you haven’t really moved anywhere.

We want to assist people in creating easy and reliable ways to shift their state of consciousness. When they do that, they not only experience themselves differently, but they also see their partners completely differently. It opens up the possibility of creating together, rather than having power struggles and conflict.

In one sense, we’re talking about couples and relationships, but perhaps it’s really not so different in business, all business comes down to relationships. In business we don’t really have “prospects” or “customers,” what we have is people.

Katie: That’s right. In our work with business, we’ve seen the same thing: all problems in business are problems of relationship. And exactly as would be the case in a personal, romantic relationship, when those relationships get opened up, then people can connect, collaborate and create the kind of momentum that comes from harmony and synergy, rather than the typical turf wars that so often happen in business.

Gay: Exactly the same principles apply. Think about any business issue, problem or crisis you’ve weathered over the years. Most of us who have been involved in any kind of business for a while have gone through any number of crashes and burns, ups and downs, home runs and flame-outs, breakthroughs and breakdowns … everything, every which way.

If you think about all those situations, they all boil down to a very small set of events or circumstances that actually cause that particular problem, whatever it may be.

One of these is the failure of someone, or sometimes more than one person, to honor their agreements and do the things they said they were going to do.

Problem #2 is a faulty communication of data. In other words, somebody wasn’t telling the truth in this situation…

Katie: … And/or somebody wasn’t listening—

Gay: Yes, or somebody wasn’t hearing the truth.

Problem #3 occurs when people don’t get sufficient buy-in.

If you tell a roomful of people, “Okay, I want everybody here to sell five widgets by Friday. All right, dismissed!” they’re probably not going to go out and sell five widgets by Friday. Why not? Because you just told them what to do, but you didn’t get their buy-in.

Suppose instead that you had everyone stand up and get involved in what you were talking about. If you have everyone there take personal ownership in the goal of selling five widgets by Friday, if everyone looks you in the eye and says, “I commit to that,” now you have a whole different situation.

Now you’ve at least created some agreement. This doesn’t make it a 100 percent foregone conclusion that your goal will happen, of course, because not everybody follows through on keeping their agreements. But it does hugely up the chances of its actually getting done.

Look at any of the business disasters or breakdowns you’ve experienced over the years, and you’ll find that most of them fall into one of these three categories of things that went wrong.

The work we teach is a conscious alternative that sort of hot-wires around those problems. Once you have people start to monitor their agreements, monitor the extent to which all the people involved are expressing themselves honestly and authentically, and monitor the extent to which people have buy-in to those agreements, things start to shift in a very fundamental way.

This becomes a whole different way to run your business—and your life, too. Because these are exactly the same principles that create great, loving relationships.

Katie: This is also the same principle of opening to a new state of consciousness and seeing your colleagues, for example, as allies rather than as enemies that are preventing your promotion.

In other words, you open up a genuine experience of appreciation for other people.

This is something you can actually measure: how many times you express appreciation to a colleague, the ways in which you listen to actively bring forth what they’re thinking about, what they really want, or what the real issues are.

Often, when we go into a business, people see these issues as the “soft stuff,” but they have enormous consequences. They are the software of the business, in a sense, rather than the hardware—and these skills actually make a crucial difference in the performance of the business.

It’s really never about a problem with a widget. It’s a problem in the ways people are communicating and perceiving their colleagues that determine whether they’re able to actually work together, or are instead getting into the same kind of competitive behaviors that people in pair partnerships get into.

In the networking business model, there’s probably a lot more awareness of the role of relationships in business than in most other business contexts. So it strikes me that what you’re saying is especially valuable to our readers.

Katie: It’s acutely valuable. We have worked with various businesses, both large and small, and in our experience, the moment where the problem actually occurs takes place in the realm of how you are seeing things. When you can change the way you are seeing things and how you are acting, then that changes your world. And that is so much more effective than trying to get the world to change, so that you can feel better or be more successful.

We focus on the different kinds of shifts you can make in your body experience that allow you to experience harmony, and to then utilize your creativity rather than always be putting out fires.

There are so many things people can do that will change their state and thus change their availability to the situation around them. You actually become more available to create and to solve problems quickly, rather than going round and round with the same old stories.

You talk about five questions that are useful for resolving relationship problems. “What am I not facing? What truths have I not spoken? What choices do I need to make?” and so forth. They’re all about taking ownership rather than pointing fingers. How do we avoid slipping into self-flagellation and making every problem in the world an issue of “what’s wrong with me”?

Gay: The important thing here is to distinguish between taking responsibility for something, versus blaming yourself for that same thing.

Let’s say I’ve been having some kind of relationship problem with somebody at work. If I take responsibility for it, that has absolutely nothing to do with blaming myself for it.

Blaming yourself is just as problem-causing as blaming the other person. It keeps you locked into this round-and-round cycle of victimhood. If you point your finger and blame, you are then perceiving yourself as the victim of the other person, and that vests all the responsibility for making change into the other person.

And how often does that work?

Katie: Right—the other person cheerfully says, “Oh, you know what? You’re right, it is all my fault!”

Gay: It’s so rare that if it ever happened, it would be on the news!

What happens instead is that one person stakes out the victim position and says, “Hey, I’m the victim here, and you’re the persecutor.” And the other person immediately tries to stake out the victim position, too: “Wait a minute—I’m the victim here! You’re the real persecutor!”

And that goes on for several thousand years.

There’s only one way to wake up from that trance, and that is to take a form of responsibility that has nothing to do with blame.

It’s a matter of saying, “Oh, I see. I must’ve been contributing to this situation in some way, otherwise it wouldn’t be occurring to me. So, hmm … let me figure out what it is I’m doing that’s contributing to this, and then see how I can stop doing that.”

We’ve had thousand of conversations on this subject with clients and seminar participants, because deep down inside, most of us have this little place where we truly do think we’re the victim, and the world is doing it to us.

We all have the potential to default into that place of victimhood at any moment. And in the thousands and thousands of situations we’ve seen, we’ve never seen a case where proclaiming victimhood made anybody happier or made anyone’s marriage work better.

Instead, what it does is simply lock in that climate of victimhood, where both people are blaming each other. And blame is one of the greatest addictions on this planet.

Now, that’s a sentence worth repeating.

Gay: It’s true. Blame probably kills more people than alcohol, drugs and obesity all put together. Because once you start blaming another person, that fires up your aggressive adrenaline system and has you saying (or at least thinking), “Hey, I know what I can do to get rid of this problem in my life—I can get rid of you!”

Humanity’s been doing that for thousands and thousands of years now, and if we’re going to make any kind of meaningful, lasting change, we need to stop doing it.

This happens one person at a time, by choosing to take responsibility. Not in an atmosphere of blame, but simply by saying, “Okay, I choose to take responsibility for changing this situation.”

In that moment, we wake up from that trance of victimhood.

Katie: It’s been exciting for us to find that taking responsibility is a whole body experience. It’s a palpable shift from blame to wonder.

Much of our work, whether with couples or with organizations, is to help people become more aware of how they are experiencing the issue, in the moment, and what they can do with their breathing, their moving and their communication, simple shifts that actually make a profound difference in the way they’re able to access their creativity.

For example, blame is what we call the “Ha!” move: you’re pointing your finger and you have that adrenaline rush, that kind of “Ha!—gotcha!” move that creates a triumphant sense of being right.

On the other hand, the sense of wonder where you instead see the situation in a more open, inquiring way creates inside yourself a pleasant, “Hmm…” sound and feeling.

We teach people to do that out loud at first, so they can actually feel the shift in their creative brain. It’s impossible to blame yourself, or anyone else, while you are creating that pleasant, ruminative “Hmm…” sound. Everybody does this spontaneously, particularly children: if we’re really wondering about something, we’ll say, “Hmm.”

We can cultivate that sense of wonder in ourselves. And this is just one example of the kind of body shifts that will change the way we think and interact.

I would hazard a guess that the finger-pointing “Gotcha!” moment happens silently, inside our minds, ten times or twenty times more often than it does in an outward, confrontational way.

Gay: Yes, absolutely. Often we have that finger on the blame button inside ourselves, 24 hours a day, due to our own beliefs about ourselves. So it becomes very easy to point it at other people, because we’re so familiar with blaming ourselves.

That moment you describe, where you say, “Hmm, I must be contributing to this in some way, otherwise it wouldn’t be happening,” that doesn’t sound like what is traditionally called a leadership trait—but it certainly sounds like an interesting leadership trait to me.

Gay: Yes, it is. I think one of the greatest things leaders can do is to be open to learning from every relationship interaction. We’ve done a lot of corporate coaching in the past, working with all sorts of powerful CEO types, and many of the great leaders I’ve been around were exactly like that.

Working with people like Michael Dell and many other great leaders, I can tell you that those who are really at the top of their game have an amazing ability to learn quickly, right on the spot, from every relationship interaction.

We think this is one of the great leadership traits. In fact, we have an “openness to learning” scale we use in our seminars.

If blaming is one of our greatest addictions, I suppose the other side of blaming is being right. What is it that so stokes that fire of needing or wanting to be right?

Katie: We’ve seen this so many thousands of times in people’s relationships! What it comes down to, I think, is the addiction to adrenaline.

It’s not logical. When you’re not doing it yourself and you see somebody else doing it, you think, “Boy, that doesn’t make any sense at all.”

But when we’re doing it ourselves, we don’t see that it’s not logical, because it completely bypasses the logical brain. When you get that hit of being right, it wipes out any ability to access your more creative impulses. We get that big hit of adrenaline, which is incredibly addictive.

The bigger question is, what can we do that generates more juiciness, more satisfaction, than adrenaline?

For example, we’ve seen that collaborating and genuinely creating with another person creates an enormous sense of satisfaction.

Appreciating, genuinely giving and receiving appreciation, also creates satisfaction. It creates a different kind of juiciness from that created by adrenaline, one that is more long-lasting, that doesn’t burn you out or create that intense, competitive adrenaline stress that most people in business or any kind of organizational structure deal with.

The bigger issue here is making a shift away from an adrenaline-based culture. The kinds of relationship skills and body wisdom skills we’ve been focusing on allow people to renew their aliveness and increase their well-being, while at the same time being more available for problem-solving.

The big problem with adrenaline is that it drains your ability to actually do anything different. It’s that same problem-recycling issue, over and over again.

People don’t realize how much of their creativity is wasted in these power struggles and conflicts—and that’s creativity that could be utilized to solve problems and generate new solutions for relationship problems, including the global problems we’re all facing today.

Fascinating—I never thought of accessing creativity as an emotional methadone to get us unhooked from adrenaline!

Katie: In my relationship with Gay, I find that the daily expression of creativity is so much juicier than that moment of being right. No matter how much juice you get from pointing that finger of blame, the “Ha!” you get only lasts for a second, and then the adrenaline drains off and you find you don’t have much of that juiciness left.

Creativity, though—creativity is an endlessly renewable resource.