The Power of Each Interaction
Written by Jim Knight.

One joy of being alive, with the opportunity to learn every day, is that we have the chance to be startled and changed by ideas that deeply affect our lives. One simple, wise, or profound idea can lead to an epiphany that changes our lives forever.

One of those transformative ideas comes from John Gottman, one of the world’s leading experts on human interaction. In his book The Relationship Cure he writes:

Complex, fulfilling relationships don’t suddenly appear in our lives fully formed. Rather, they develop one encounter at a time.

This seems simple enough. Each interaction shapes our relationships, but for me the idea is truly revolutionary. What Gottman is saying is that every relationship is alive, and every interaction has the potential to improve or damage our connections with others. Every email, every smile, every roll of the eyes, every act of kindness, shapes our relationships. Further, to move through the day unconscious of the power of each interaction, is to miss out on a great opportunity for good and for personal happiness.

I am far from perfect at staying awake to the power of each interaction–I have a long, long way to go, and indeed the changes I feel on the inside may not yet be visible to my friends and colleagues. But keeping in mind that every interaction brings life or death, has changed the way I relate to others. When I am awake to what I do, I welcome each interaction as a way to strengthen my ties and foster health. I hope that my awareness of the power of each interaction is making a difference for me as a husband, father, friend, and colleague. I will be thrilled if Gottman’s idea can make a difference for a few radical learners too.


  1. Julie Balen


    First, I am glad to see the Radical Learner is back. In spite of the plethora of voices online, yours has been missed.

    And to the power of our interactions, I have not yet read The Relationship Cure, but I can say that as a partner, parent, and teacher I believed I worked hard at my relationships; that is, I believed I paid attention to the people around me. But, it wasn’t until I became a coach that I learned or processed or accepted the power of my interactions with/on others. Like you, I have much more learning to do (how do I stop the voice in my head, and truly listen to others?), but I am grateful that my stance was disrupted.

    • Jim Knight

      Hi Julie, I just saw your post. I think we need to keep striving to improve, but we also need to recognize that we can’t do any better than our best.

  2. Jennifer Sikes

    Jim, you write this just as our school embarks on Empathy Week. Our teachers had workshops today and the kids will have experiential learning opportunities every day next week as related to empathy. I will share your advice about staying alive to each encounter with the staff and students. Doing so goes a long way toward empathy.

  3. Jim Knight

    What a great idea Empathy week is, Jennifer. Thank you for this.



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