The Choice No One Can Take Away

When we face difficult times, it’s easy to feel helpless. The tough events which happen to us are so often not what we’d choose to happen, and leave us feeling stuck, out of control, and left to react. I don’t know about you, but when things aren’t going my way, I don’t always react in the best light. Yet, while circumstances are at times dictated for us, robbing us of freedoms we are used to — we do have a choice over one thing, despite the circumstances: how we’ll behave in the middle of it all.

Behavioral self-control is a competency of emotional intelligence, and can be defined as simply keeping our emotions, impulses, and actions in check…especially the ones which are disruptive, hurtful (to ourselves and others), and damaging.

People who are good at managing their behaviors — even in the midst of tough times — notice their emotions, often before they feel them. Sound impossible? It’s not. They’ve simply learned to read the warning flags their brains send to their bodies when, say, stressors come to call. Think about the last time you felt very upset, or, say, worried. How did it show up in your body? Did you get a headache? Sick to your stomach? Flushed? Dry mouth? Shaky? Learning to recognize your bodily symptoms of oncoming stress can help you prepare for it, so, instead of simply reacting, you can choose how you WANT to act. Take a moment to note your own stress signals and where/how they show up in your body.

Another characteristic of those with strong behavior self-control is that they are able to stay composed and unflappable in trying moments. By restraining negative reactions, which, left unchecked can make a tough situation tougher, they are able to remain positive during tough times. It’s so easy to engage in negative, reactive behaviors — damaging self-talk, badmouthing others, overuse of food/alcohol/etc. — when things aren’t going our way. What’s your vice when you are at odds with others and/or the world? Notice it, and spend a little time noting how well it is serving you. Though hurtful behaviors may seem to bring some relief or satisfaction in the moment, they often don’t provide many solutions for the long run. So take pause, and ask yourself, “What are my reactive behaviors, and do they truly help or make things worse?”

Something I find admirable about those with strong behavioral self-control is that when they are faced with hostility, opposition, or aggressive confrontations, they are able to remain cool, calm, and collected. Just because someone else is acting poorly doesn’t mean they have to, too. They are able to choose to stay focused so they can think and reason clearly, restraining the tendency toward agitated reactions which escalate things. This includes keeping their mouth shut until they can cool down, something I strive to do more often!

Those who struggle with behavioral self-control instead, react impulsively. They don’t resist temptations and give in easily when pushed or provoked. They are often quick to anger, defensive, and go to extremes when they are faced with conflict and stress. Sometimes this appears as negative self-talk, such as, “This always happens to me”, and “I always mess up!”, etc., but often comes out as hurtful behavior toward others — saying and doing things which cause harm, whether physically or emotionally. 

Developing self-awareness is a first step in building more behavioral self-control. Notice the moments when you tend to “lose it”, and make a list of the things which trigger your bad behaviors. Maybe it’s when you turn on the news, or when you have a conversation with that one certain person, or when you hear of yet another change you’re expected to ‘roll’ with. Look at each trigger and think about a few ways which you could act differently — more constructively —  than your current go-to reaction. For example, if you get agitated when watching a particular news program, notice which emotions you are feeling, and name them. Then notice which thoughts follow closely on the heels of those emotions (e.g., “I hate that leader — he is an idiot!”). From your thoughts stem your reactions. If your reactive  behavior is to badmouth a particular leader on your social media feed, notice how you feel when you do that. Then, take an honest audit on what damage that behavior may cause. For example, you may discover you are losing friends left and right (no pun intended), that no one follows you online anymore, nor do they want to chat or hang out with you as a result — and you would like it if they did. This could be an indicator that the badmouthing others is not working so well for you. What is an alternate reaction you could choose — a better way of responding to a news report which upsets you? Jot these strategies down so you’re prepared next time your trigger button is pushed — because it will be. How might you feel if you reacted that way? What alternate outcomes might that behavior bring about?  The thought is that the next time you are triggered, you’ll be ready with a new, more beneficial action to try.

In heated moments, taking an emotional audit is a simple exercise you can do on your own, or with a group you work closely with, or with a close friend or significant other.  Here’s how it works:  When you feel triggered, practice the pause. Literally — count to ten, twenty, thirty, to put a little time and space between the stimulus and your response. Then, before you react, ask yourself and answer these questions:

1-What am I feeling?

2-What am I thinking as a result of these feelings?

3-What do I want to happen in this moment (what would be an ideal outcome)?

4-What am I doing to sabotage this outcome?

5-What do I need to do or say right now to get the outcome I want?

While we can’t always control our circumstances, we can choose how we’ll act. That’s a choice that no one can take away. With practice, and yes, it takes practice, we can begin to carve out the path we want to take in the new year — not in trying to control things which are out of our control (which, interestingly, causes more stress than anything!), but by controlling what is IN our control — our behavior.

The Power of Positive Memories

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

The manner in which you look back on 2021 can have a tremendous impact on how well this next year unfolds. Consider reflecting on the things which went well for a successful 2022!

Did you know that the way you remember past events influences your current and future thinking? Research shows that memory is not just for remembering things. The same brain functions which are active when we remember the past are used when we attempt to sort through current happenings and dream about the future. Lisa M.P. Munoz, in a article entitled Linking the Past to the Future Through Memory, notes, “Scientists know now that the same brain processes we use to remember the past, also help us plan for the future and imagine different possible scenarios.” Donna Rose Addis of the University of Auckland notes the same thing as she says, “Memory appears to be intimately linked to our ability to imagine our futures.” She goes on to say, “Being able to imagine the future allows us to mentally work through potential obstacles in our minds and to troubleshoot how we might best cope with those [difficult] situations.” [https://www.psych.utoronto.ca/people/directories/all-faculty/donna-rose-addis] In other words, how we look back on the past has a direct impact on our current — and future — emotional wellbeing. If we allow ourselves to be flooded with the negativity of the past year, our brain reacts to current events in the same way. And our hopes for the future can be tainted accordingly.

Our ability to reminisce in a positive manner empowers us with the ability to think of and try out creative and strategies for problem-solving. It can also decrease worry about dreaded upcoming events. Do you know of anyone who struggles with worry?

A recent study in 2020 showed that 78% of Americans who took the time to reflect on cherished events  more comfort during stressful times. In an insightful survey conducted by OnePolls, researchers discovered this: “Those who reminisced often were more likely to strongly agree that they were hopeful for what the post-pandemic future holds (34%), compared to those who rarely (20%) or never (14%) looked back on past events.”

 [https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/positive-memories-have-been-lifeline-during-pandemic/]

“Revisiting the past brings back the joy of the good times and the comforting security of being reunited with loved ones. Happy memories remind us of when life was less complicated.” — Dr. Krystine Batcho, PhD

Unfortunately, humans have a tendency to focus on the negative. And while negative emotions have an important role in enabling us to experience the full gamut of the human experience, paying attention to only the negative decreases our resilience and stress management…competencies of emotional intelligence which are vital to navigating tough times.  And, sadly, this slant toward what has gone wrong also diminishes our ability to experience future positive emotions.

Take a moment to notice the things you’ve shared with your family, friends, and coworkers lately. If you can’t remember, go back and read through your social media posts of the last year. Do you most often speak of positive, encouraging events, or do your words depict frustrating, negative things? 

This is not about pretending nothing bad has happened or is happening in your life. Of course there are tough times, annoying, hurtful, excruciating moments, happenings you’d probably rather forget. The accompanying negative emotions are normal, and healthy, believe it or not. Allowing yourself to go through the grieving process around your losses, disappointments, and hopeless moments is vital to emotional health. Acting like everything is perfect, when it isn’t, can prevent you from learning from mistakes, building endurance, and becoming more resilient. This sort of pretending will only stunt your emotional growth.  

What we are talking about is spending ample time reflecting on the positives as well. To combat this bias toward negativity, we have to make an effort to notice and remember the good ‘ole times. Again, I get it: 2021 was tough. But if you look closely, you may be surprised to discover that good times were snugly tucked in to last year’s happenings as well. And according to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden and build theory, we can increase the likelihood of experiencing future positivity by cultivating these positive memories.

So, here at the end of 2021, before you launch into the new year with your resolutions and goals, take a moment to stop, and cultivate your positive memories. Try to remember some of the good things which happened this past year. What made you smile? What accomplishments did you achieve? With whom did you connect more deeply? Which of your goals did you reach? What miracles did you witness? Which challenges did you tackle? Who made you laugh? What amazing encounters did you have? What beauty did see? What things made you curious? What joys did life bring? What blessings did you receive? What random acts of kindness were you privy to? Think about how you felt when you experienced these uplifting events. Pull out your journal or a notebook and jot them down, pausing to offer up gratitude for each and every word you write.

Even better, grab a friend or close colleague and share these stories of abundance aloud. Share them on your social media pages. Write a blog. Post an article. Don’t underestimate the impact your edifying accounts will have on others. Most of us like to hear stories about what’s going right in this world. This kind of sharing is infectious, and breeds positivity and feel-good emotions for all involved. Research shows that even brief autobiographical storytelling can significantly impact our psychological and physical health, with the positive results lasting months after the storytelling. [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-web-violence/201309/resilience-and-4-benefits-sharing-your-story.]  

So, do want to spend the last days of 2021 in a way that will start the new year on the right foot? Take a moment — or many moments — to reflect on the happy times of last year and get busy sharing your stories with others. 

Gratefully, Yours

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

For whom do you feel a deep sense of gratitude? Have you let them know?

It’s that time of year where we’re reminded to offer up thanks. And why not? Developing practices of gratitude is one of the simplest ways to improve life satisfaction. Research shows that expressing gratitude not only benefits the person receiving it, but also the giver, with positive effects sticking around for months.

Psychologists Dr. Robert Emmons (University of CA) and Dr. Michael McCullough (University of Miami) conducted a study asking one group of participants to write about things they were thankful for during the week. A second group was to write about daily frustrations and a third group was asked to write about anything. After ten weeks of this, the researchers found that those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt more positive about their lives. Interestingly, they exercised more often and paid fewer visits to the doctor that the other groups! [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12585811/]

Another significant study on the benefits of gratitude was conducted by Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Penn State Positive Psychology Center. He assigned study participants to write a gratitude letter and deliver it to the recipient. The participants who did this displayed a drastic increase in their happiness scores, and these happiness benefits lasted up to six months after they letter was written and delivered. [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16045394/]

Gratitude is not only connected to reducing depression and worry-related anxiety, but boosts an overall sense of wellbeing and relationship satisfaction. When gratitude is expressed, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with our ability to imagine our future, becomes activated, allowing us to ‘see’ more optimistic outcomes. Additionally, exercising gratitude increases activity in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain which controls functions such as sleep, eating, metabolism, and stress management.  Know of anyone who could use some improvement in those bodily functions?! [https://draxe.com/health/benefits-of-gratitude/   and https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain]

In an article in Psychology Today, author Amy Morin outlines these seven benefits of gratitude:

1. It opens doors to new relationships

2. It improves physical health

3. It improves psychological health

4. It enhances empathy

5. It helps with sleep

6. It increases self-esteem

7. It increases mental strength

[https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude]

Still not believing it? Give it a try! Keep a gratitude journal for the next ten weeks. Or, take a moment to write a gratitude letter to someone who’s had a positive impact on you, and deliver it. If you can’t deliver it in person, set up an online meeting and read it aloud to them.

Then let us know how you are feeling!

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Integral Alignment

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

We are told to be ;people of integrity…but what does that mean?

The Deeper Meaning of Integrity

Integrity, a competency of emotional intelligence, can be defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles or moral uprightness. People of integrity do the right thing, even when no one is looking. They adhere to a set of high ethical standards. They are good. They are true. They speak the truth. They are honest. They are a step above the rest. They are trustworthy. They are reliable. Is someone you know coming to mind?

While the above descriptions are accurate, there’s an even deeper meaning which I think speaks best to the true heart of integrity, and it’s this: the state of being complete or whole [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/integrity]. I’m talking about integral alignment: being unified and undivided, all parts of yourself working together as a cohesive whole. People who have integral alignment know who they are, and they like who you are — as do others–and their actions support rather than supplant. They don’t have to hide the parts of them which seem unacceptable, or feel like an imposter. They live in the open, in the light, and their behavior lines up with the words which come out of their mouth — even when no one else is around. They aren’t perfect — they make mistakes like everyone else, but they own their missteps and move forward, without shame. When someone walks in this type of integrity, each component (their values, morals, principals, words, actions, day-to-day behavior) are in alignment with who they are…or, maybe better said, who they aspire to be.

When Integrity is Lacking

When someone struggles with integrity, they are out of this alignment, and don’t behave in accordance with their values. They’ll often say they feel as if they are compartmentalized, with parts of them which need to stay hidden in order to be accepted. They tend to do what is most expedient rather than what is right, because they have not yet sorted out their own opinions and feelings of what is right and what is wrong. They don’t always do what they say they will do, and are unreliable. They tend to be followers, easily influenced by others, showing little independent thought. They will respond to the needs of the moment, often selfish in nature, and behave differently, morally and ethically, depending on the situation. They tend to look out for their own needs before the needs of others, and are apt to be dishonest. Telling little white lies to get out of trouble is a go-to behavior, and their virtues come and go on a whim. Their day-to-day actions don’t match up with the words which come out of their mouth. They are disjointed and others can’t quite get a good read on them.

Is someone you know coming to mind here?

Try, if you can, to not be hasty to negatively judge someone who is out of this integral alignment. Not everyone knows who they aspire to be, nor have they taken the time to establish their tried and true values.

Growing in Integrity

If you would like to develop more of integral alignment, a good place to start is to take the following inventory to gain clarity on various aspects of your integrity. Please complete the self-assessment portion, and then complete it again from the perspective of others with whom you are closest to — at work and at home. Of course, be honest as you respond to the prompts — it doesn’t make any sense to fudge your answers on an integrity inventory!, and remember, no one will see this but you.

Place a check-mark in one of the boxes on the right, with “5” being “I do this ALWAYS,” “4” being “almost always,” 3 being “often,” “2” being “occasionally,” and “1” being “I seldom do this.”

  Aspects of integrity  1  2  3  4  5
If I commit to something, I follow through on that commitment.     
I am truthful at all times.     
I treat people fairly, no matter their place in society or in the organization.     
I am open with others about my values and beliefs, but without being overbearing or preachy.     
I take the tough, principled stand without hesitation, even if it’s not popular.     
I readily admit my mistakes.     
I give true, accurate information in all encounters. I never bend the truth.     
I do what’s right, even if it’s not personally rewarding.     
I know my values and I live by them at all times.     
I “walk the talk” – I demonstrate high ethical standards in everything I do.     
I always follow through on my stated intentions.     
My actions are trustworthy in all my interactions.     
I treat all people with respect, both in my face-to-face interactions AND behind their backs.     
I accept accountability for my actions.     
I give credit to others when deserved. I never present others’ work or ideas as my own.     
I take a stand for what’s right, even when opposed.     
I act in accordance with my own stated values, beliefs and principles.     
I carry out the spirit as well as the letter of formal and informal contracts and agreements.     
I tell the truth without “beating around the bush.”     
I accept conflict as inevitable whenever two or more people are together, and I don’t avoid it, but rather I seek to resolve it to the benefit of all. I embrace the negative and resolve it.     

How’d you do?

Now, ask yourself, how would others — those you’re closest to, and who know you well — rate you on these same items? If you’re not sure, consider having a conversation with several of your colleagues or friends and ask them to share their insights on the above prompts about your behaviors in these areas.

Do your responses match up with theirs? If not, note in which areas there are discrepancies. If you’re really honest with yourself, do you agree with them? Why or why not? Take some time to journal or talk with someone about why the gaps between your responses and theirs may exist –without negative judgment toward either you or them, if possible. Note if these behaviors only show up with certain people, or with everyone you interact with. Decide which of these areas you’d like to grow in — then spend the next few weeks, months, focusing on either doing more of it, as needed.

Identify Your Values

Secondly, to develop more integral alignment, consider doing a values check to determine your top values. What is most important to you? What qualities do you admire most in others? Which attributes do you wish you had more of? Make a list of your top ten values. Then, ask yourself, am I living my life based upon these values?

One way to identify your values is to look at your calendar. What do you spend most of your time doing? How often do these values show up in the activities you choose to spend your time doing?

Another check is to look at how you spend your money. How much of your financial resources do you allot to these values? No shame if there’s a mismatch here, but do take note. Notice the things you are spending your time doing which do not align with the values you listed above, and note the items on which you spend money which do not align with the values you listed above. What could you do more of in each area to come into alignment? What could you do less of?

Moving Toward More Integrity

Again, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not living in perfect integral alignment. Shameful feelings won’t help the situation. Instead, own the areas of your life you want to change. Say them out loud. Write them down. Apologize to those you’ve hurt. Share with a trusted friend or colleague who you aspire to be. Seek the help of a counselor or coach. Create an action plan of things you plan to do more of, and things you plan to do less of. Ask someone to be an accountability partner, a person who will encourage you toward more integral behaviors, and alert you to the times you miss.

Then, get up and get started. Give yourself grace and plenty of room to grow. Forgive yourself of mistakes, celebrate your wins. Remember, the goal is not to be perfect in integrity, but to exhibit more integrity more of the time.

As you progress, pause to notice the areas in which your life feels more aligned, more whole, more complete. How has your integrity contributed to that?

A great resource to further development of your integrity is the book, Integrity:  The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, by Dr. Henry Cloud.

Becoming Trustworthy

Article submitted by Amy Sargent

“Do you trust me?”

It’s a familiar line from romcoms. The protagonist is getting ready to do something crazy and wants the heroine to go along with him. He reaches toward her with an open hand, hoping she’ll abandon all logic and jump.

And don’t we love it when she jumps?!

It’s fun to watch on the big screen, but in real life, trusting others can be tough. If you’ve ever been lied to (and, who hasn’t?), or betrayed, or deceived in any way, there’s a good chance you say, “No thanks, I’ll stay here and play it safe.”

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

Stephen Covey

Trust–or a Lack of–in the Workplace

In the workplace, trust can be especially difficult to navigate. First of all, there’s a professional persona we all put on when we head to the office. Much of professionalism lends to a healthy workplace, by setting appropriate boundaries, offering mutual respect, and using polished, effective communication skills. However the downside is that sometimes our professional self looks nothing like our real self, and can leave us (and others) feeling, well, nothing. And that cold, hard shell of inauthenticity can be both exhausting to maintain, and empty.

Secondly, there’s fear. Fear of all shapes and sizes can prevent us from trusting in professional relationships, and instead, choose to stay closed off, hiding behind our masks of inauthenticity. Fear of not getting that promotion. Fear of being fired. Fear of management disapproval. Fear of employees not liking you. Fear of looking silly. Fear of looking too confident. Fear of … you fill in the blank!

However, without trust, the workplace becomes nothing but a hollow movie set of actresses and actors, pretending, resulting in shallow, unengaged teams.  Imagine, instead, if we could build authentic, value-driven teams working together with integrity to achieve success.

Wondering why your key players are quitting? Maybe it’s a lack of trust. Shelley Smith, in an article she wrote for Forbes entitled Lack of Trust Can Make Workplaces Sick and Dysfunctional, notes, “Team members who don’t trust their leaders are likely working the bare minimum and planning to get out.” She goes on to say, “If you don’t trust your team, you’re likely either micromanaging or withholding information and working on initiatives on your own or with a select group of people. This can create a vicious cycle, as your team may respond by pulling back even further, so you’ve created a perfect storm in this self-fulfilling prophecy of distrust.”[https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/10/24/lack-of-trust-can-make-workplaces-sick-and-dysfunctional/]

On the contrary, a workplace embedded with trust enables team members to feel safe — safe to be innovative, safe to achieve, safe to take risks, safe to fail. Paul Towers, Founder at Task Pigeon, shares this wisdom in his blog: “Successful businesses are built on relationships. Relationships between employers and employees, staff and customers, internal stakeholders and external stakeholders. At the foundation of all relationships is trust.” [https://blog.taskpigeon.co/workplace-trust-trust-important-workplace/]

What is trust?

What does it mean to be trustworthy?

It’s a way of behaving which creates a bond, or connection, with others which is appropriate, empowering, and safe. A trustworthy person is reliable and dependable and others feel enabled to speak their truth(s) and be themselves. Those with this competence of emotional intelligence encourage and participate in appropriate self-disclosure. In other words, they’re not afraid to share information — about themselves, about the project, about the company, when appropriate.

Trustworthy individuals are willing to be influenced by others, and are open to changing their minds in conversations with others. They are known to maintain high standards of personal integrity (doing the “right” thing, even when no one is looking), and their public behaviors match up with their personal behaviors. They treat others fairly and with respect. They genuinely care about others. They make good on their promises.

Would you want to work for/with professionals like this?

And if we asked them, would your colleagues, clients, and customers use these descriptors when talking about you?

Tell-tale Signs that Trust is Lacking

When trust is absent from relationships, it rears its dubious head in several ways. Do you notice any of these behaviors in your day-to-day interactions?

  • You’re not that great at establishing open, candid, relationships
  • You’ve developed a reputation for lacking integrity
  • You tell lies, often
  • You blame others for your mistakes
  • You say one thing and do another
  • You make promises which you can’t — or don’t intend to — keep
  • Your behavior is erratic, and inconsistent
  • You treat some people poorly
  • You’ve undermined others for your own gain
  • Others never come to you as a source of guidance or wisdom

If you can relate to any of the above, it may be time to do some work on developing the skills which build trust.

Trust Makers

Building trust, as in all emotional intelligence competencies, can be developed. Here are some ways you can begin your journey toward becoming more trustworthy:

  • Develop personal relationships with others by working on your listening skills. Ask open-ended questions, and tune in, carefully, to what’s on their minds and in their hearts.
  • Be accessible. Do others feel safe popping in your office to say hi, or talk about something which is important to them? We’re not talking about having no boundaries. But within your office hours, be sure to schedule time when you can be available to others.
  • Develop integrity. Check to make sure you’re doing the right things, even when others are not looking. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a counselor or a social and emotional intelligence coach to help build new behaviors where needed.
  • Always deliver on your commitments. If you say you’ll be somewhere, be there. If you say you’ll do something, do it. Let cancellations be a rare event, not something others expect with you.
  • Never knowingly mislead others or lie.
  • Know your personal values, and consciously articulate and demonstrate them in your day-to-day activities. It should be obvious to those who work closely with you and/or have a close relationship with you as to what you esteem and believe in.
  • Admit your mistakes. Own your missteps, and refrain from pointing the finger at others. Learn to express a quick and heartfelt, “I’m sorry” when you miss.
  • Don’t badmouth others. Let your words edify and lift up, both in person and when, on the rare occasion, you are talking about someone when they’re not in the room. It’s possible to openly discuss areas of growth without shaming or belittling.
  • Treat others with respect, no matter their title or ‘status’ within the organization.
  • And finally, be consistent with all of the above. Being trustworthy is not a one-time event. It’s a recurring and iterative way of behaving.

Rebuilding Trust

“Trust is the easiest thing in the world to lose, and the hardest thing in the world to get back.”

R.M. Williams

If you’ve broken someone’s trust — which we all have at some point in our lives — know that it can be rebuilt. It won’t happen overnight, and it takes work to establish a trusting relationship again. A formula which seems to work is consistency + time. The person who lost faith in you must be willing to trust you again, and if they’re not, you may need to let that relationship go. But if they are, they will need to see consistent, trust-building behaviors over a long period of time in order to trust again.

These developmental tips must be practiced regularly to turn them into habits. This can take time. But becoming more trustworthy is the only way to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships, both at work and at home.

“Trust is like love. It can’t be seen, but its value is immeasurable.”

― Frank Sonnenberg

Managing Conflict with Emotional Intelligence

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

It takes two to tango. It’s an old, overused phrase, yet one which still accurately illustrates the fact that conflict doesn’t happen in isolation. Think of the last conflict you experienced. Was it about you, with you, against you — or was another person involved?

Conflict is defined as a serious disagreement or argument. It can also be defined as an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests, or, a word to describe when two people are at a variance. In more simpler terms, conflict means to clash. [https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/]

Do you clash with anyone these days?

A common way of dealing with conflict is to point the finger at the other person’s misses, flaws, and faults. It’s most likely the most preferred way of ‘handling’ conflict. However, you’ve probably discovered that finger pointing doesn’t make the conflict go away, and sometimes, exacerbates it. Another way we deal with conflict is through control — trying to control the other person. But try as you may, you probably realize it’s nearly impossible to make someone else do/be what you want them to do/be. There’s only one part of conflict you can control: you. Margaret Paul adds, “When it comes to control, it’s important to remember that the only thing we actually have control over is ourselves, our attitudes, our beliefs, our behavior – our intent.”

This should come as good news. It is tiring to attempt to control others. If you’ve tried it, you know what I mean.

“Attempting to constantly control everyone and everything around you is not only exhausting…it is also futile. The only real power you can achieve in this life is being in control of yourself.”

― Anthon St. Maarten

So, let’s talk about the emotional intelligence competency of behavioral self-control as it relates to conflict. What is it, and how do you know if you’re doing well with it, or struggling?

Behavioral self-control simply means keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check. It’s not about not feeling certain emotions…or pretending they are not there…or stuffing them inside. It’s actually about fully feeling emotions — but not letting them have the driver’s seat. Instead, we feel them then choose how we want to behave.

A controlling nature

Trying to control others is a primary hurdle to developing behavioral self-control. If it’s always someone else’s fault, and if only you could make the _____ (fill in the blank), where is the space for you to look at your own areas of improvement to make a shift. You may be thinking, that’s not me — I don’t try to control others. What does a controlling personality look like? If you can answer yes to any of the following, you may be a bit of a controller:

  • I usually think I am right in most disagreements
  • It’s important for me to be right
  • I criticize others, either to their face or behind their back — or in my mind
  • I always have a better solution and offer it freely, even when not asked
  • I clearly see others’ faults, but don’t notice my own
  • I think things will be better if we do them my way
  • I’m often telling others what they should be doing vs. what they are doing
  • I have a hard time saying sorry (because I’m rarely wrong!)

[https://www.innerbonding.com/show-article/553/self-control-vs-controlling-self-and-others.html]

Sometimes having a controlling nature is a form of self-protection. Maybe you’ve experienced trauma where someone robbed you of your freedom or safety at one point in your life, and now, the only way to maintain any control is to control others. Controlling others may simply be a way to cope. If that’s the case, no shame. Seek the help of a professional therapist or counsellor if this resonates with you to further explore what’s going on.

“You always seek to control others when you are not in full ownership of yourself.”

― Cicely Tyson

Controlling rarely brings the relationship results we’re looking for. Instead, focus on something(one) you can control…yourself.

People who shine in behavioral self-control

People who are strong in behavioral self-control are good at managing their impulsive feelings and distressing emotions well. They stay composed, positive, and unflappable even in trying moments. They restrain negative reactions and stay focused under pressure. They are self-aware enough to maintain their stamina and performance in emotionally-charged situations. Instead of being a victim to tough circumstances, they choose not to escalate a problem when attacked, provoked, or aggressively confronted by another.

While there are some people who have mastered this, most of us struggle with one or more of the above. Which one of those would you like to improve upon? What benefits might you experience if you were to grow in that area? Which of your relationships would it positively effect?

Raven Ishak says, “While you may believe that you can control a lot in your life, the reality is that you really only have control over one thing: your emotions.”[https://www.bustle.com/articles/147204-6-ways-to-let-go-of-control-enjoy-life-more]

Think back on your last conflict. Which one of the above could have helped with the disagreement if you or the other person could have exercised more of it?

People lacking this competency

How can you tell if you struggle with behavioral self-control? You probably won’t be surprised, but those who could grow in this competency tend to:

  • React impulsively
  • Get involved in inappropriate situations because they can’t resist the temptation
  • Respond to problems in a non-constructive way (yelling, hurling insults, etc.)
  • Are quick to anger
  • Tend to be defensive
  • May become angry, depressed or agitated when faced with conflicts and stress on the job (may even think of quitting)

Again, no shame here. We all have areas in which we can grow. If you could choose one to work on first, which one would you choose and why?

Development tips

Self-awareness is the first step to developing stronger behavior self-control. Once you’ve identified an area (from the list above) you’d like to work on, make a list of things that cause you to “lose it” – your triggers or “hot buttons”. Note who pushes those buttons most. When is the next time you will be in contact with them? Then, write out a strategy to deal with each of these issues the next time they arise. If you’re struggling with ideas, consider enlisting the help of a social and emotional intelligence coach.

Having a plan of attack will help you to choose a more constructive response when issues come up in the future.

And while you do this, watch your self talk. That little voice in our head is really great at doing everything it can to justify poor behavior. Instead, tell yourself what it looks like to stay composed and calm. Describe to yourself what an optimal outcome would look like, and what you could do to achieve that. Then tell yourself you can do this.

That way, the next time you hear the phrase, “It takes two to tango”, you can make it about dancing, and not about conflict.

Accurate Self-Assessment

Article submitted by Amy Sargent

When you look into the mirror, who do you see? If someone was looking at your reflection with you, would they see the same thing(s) in you?

I’d like to think I have an accurate view of myself. I mean, I’m old, and I’ve lived with me for 50 some years now. You would think I would know myself well…and I do…in some aspects.

But, as we all do, I have a few blind spots. Blind spots are simply areas of life where others see us differently than we see ourselves. They often are aspects where we view ourselves stronger, higher, more adept, more suave, more competent — you fill in the blank — than what those around us see.

Know Thyself

Accurate self-assessment. What is it, and how can we know if we have it? It’s a competency of emotional intelligence, and one which is vital to building a healthy self-image and healthy relationships.

“What do you mean, Phib?” asked Miss Squeers, looking in her own little glass, where, like most of us, she saw – not herself, but the reflection of some pleasant image in her own brain.”

― Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

Accurate self-assessment is an inner awareness of your strengths and limitations, without ill-placed pride, and without shame. It’s also knowing how to utilize your strengths and improve in your areas of growth.

Are you self-aware about your self-awareness?

Ironically, many think they are self-aware when they are not. Organizational psychologist and researcher Tasha Eurich notes, “With thousands of people from all around the world, 95 percent of people believe that they’re self-aware, but only about 10 to 15 percent really are.” [https://trainingmag.com/why-most-people-lack-self-awareness-and-what-to-do-about-it]. Do you think you fall in the 95% or the 15%?

Eurich goes on to note, “At the office, we don’t have to look far to find unaware colleagues — people who, despite past successes, solid qualifications, or irrefutable intelligence, display a complete lack of insight into how they are coming across.”

You’re probably thinking of someone (or somemany!) right now.

A question to ask — if they were reading this, would they be thinking of you?

Healthy self-esteem

Research shows that accurate self-awareness builds healthy self-esteem by making us more proactive and encouraging positive self-development (Sutton, 2016). It allows us to experience pride in ourselves and our accomplishments (Silvia & O’Brien, 2004). It lends itself toward better decision making (Ridley, Schutz, Glanz, & Weinstein, 1992), and can make us better at our jobs, better communicators in the workplace, and enhance our self-confidence and job-related wellbeing (Sutton, Williams, & Allinson, 2015). [https://positivepsychology.com/self-awareness-matters-how-you-can-be-more-self-aware/]

Qualities of a self-aware individual

People who are strong in this competency tend to do a lot of the following. Which one of these is your strength?

  • Reflective and learn from past experiences
  • Understand your potential
  • Recognize your strengths and capabilities
  • Welcome candid feedback
  • Are continually learning
  • See clearly your areas of growth
  • Admit you have blind spots
  • Are quick to ask for help from others
  • Have the ability to identify and target areas for improvement and change
  • Demonstrate a desire to improve

“Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well.”

― Naya Rivera

Healthy relationships

It’s also important we develop an acute self-awareness to experience successful relationships. In her thesis at Pepperdine University, Camille Fung concludes that “Self-awareness is positively correlated with self-acceptance and quality of interpersonal relationships. This means that self-acceptance and self-awareness tend to increase and decrease together and self-awareness and quality of relationships do the same.”
[https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/288853605.pdf]

Blind spots (those areas where your mirror doesn’t show you what you need to see)

If you’re not sure if you have a blind spot in accurate self-awareness, ask yourself, “How many of these behaviors show up for me on a daily or weekly basis?”

  • Tend to want to appear “right” in front of others
  • Fail to ask for help
  • Compete with others instead of cooperating
  • Exaggerate their own value and contribution
  • Set unrealistic, overly ambitious and unattainable goals for themselves and others
  • Push themselves hard, often at the expense of other parts of their lives
  • Push others hard
  • Tend to micromanage and take over instead of delegating (“if you want it done right. . . “)
  • Take credit for others’ efforts
  • Blame others for mistakes, even if they made them
  • Cannot admit mistakes or personal weaknesses
  • Can’t accept feedback or criticism

It’s normal to have blind spots, and it’s normal to have areas of accurate self-awareness which need improvement. Recognizing the area you want to do some work on is a great first step toward improvement. A brave next step would be to ask those closest to you, whether at work or at home, which of the above qualities do they notice showing up in you?

“It is good to see ourselves as others see us.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

Again, it’s OK to have areas around accurate self-assessment which need some work. No shame. Welcome to the human race. However, once you’ve raised your self-awareness around areas of growth, there’s no need to keep repeating patterns which aren’t working for you, or others. The good news about emotional intelligence is that it can be developed and improved.

Take a moment to brainstorm ways you could do LESS of one of the above behaviors. Then give it a try with the next person you interact with. Then try it again…and again…and again, until it become a new habit.

Development tips

In Nick Wignall’s article, “5 Habits of Highly Self-Aware People”, he outlines five ways you can tell someone IS self-aware. These can serve as ideals or goals to work toward. Which of these would you like to develop in your own life?

  • They listen more than they talk.
  • They’re curious about their own minds.
  • They look for emotional blind spots.
  • They ask for feedback (and take it well).
  • They reflect on their values. [https://nickwignall.com/self-aware-people/

Choose one and focus on doing more of that for a few weeks. As with building any new habit, it will take time and repetition. Celebrate your successes along the way. Then keep going. After a few months, take some time to journal what you’ve learned, where you’ve improved and where you still need work. You can continue to focus on that one aspect, or pick a new one to work on. Then do it. And give yourself a little grace in the process. Not to burst your bubble, but you’ll never be perfect at this. The goal is to express more accurate self-assessment more of the time.

It helps to have someone helping you along the way. Consider enlisting the services of a social and emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you as you shift in a new direction.

Accurate self-assessment and our world view

And accurate self-assessment not only applies to our view of ourselves, but our view of the world in which we live. I’m continually surprised when sharing my perspective on something, which is absolutely clear — and right! — in my mind, only to discover it’s completely different than what the next person is thinking. Same events, different perspectives.  How could that be? Which is right? Which is wrong? Could I possibly be missing?

Yes, I could. And also, I could also be right. Possibly a better question to ask is, “Can opposing views coexist in reality, each containing aspects of accuracy?” If yes, then it may be a combination of our accurate self-view and the perspective of others which bring us closer to awareness and truth.

Evolved EQ

Article and graphic submitted by guest author Joni Roylance

The journey to “achieving” Emotional Intelligence is a long one, and I have yet to meet anyone who says they have finished that journey. In other words, it’s an ever-evolving set of skills and qualities that are a direct response to the current culture, needs, and expectations of the American workforce.

The past almost two years in the workplace have been life changing for all of us, culture shaping for many companies, and have resulted in different expectations that talent has of their formal and informal leadership going forward. This infographic highlights some of the key shifts of what used to be acceptable EQ versus the elevated expectations of 2021 and beyond.

Please let us know your thoughts! 

Don’t Miss the View

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

I woke early and hopped on my bicycle, barefoot, and pedaled over to the beach in the first rays of the morning light. Pinks, oranges, and purples danced across the water’s surface. Sea gulls flocked together on the shore and sat silently looking seaward, dreaming of discarded sandwiches and half-empty bags of chips. A lone heron stood on one foot, stately and elegant, and a silvery fish jumped with a splash. The waves rolled in gently and the breezes whispered promises of peace and hope. Early mornings on the beach are the stuff dreams are made of.

That is, if you look past the trash strewn across the sand, remnants of yesterday’s revels. Broken glass, empty soda cans, bags of garbage, diapers, broken chairs, plastic sand toys, dismantled canopies, busted umbrellas, fast food wrappers, grocery bags, cigarette butts, and oh, those plastic water bottle lids by the dozens.

I got to thinking, if I only focused on the garbage, and believe me, there was a LOT, and reflected on what kind of people would leave such a mess, the whole beach experience would be ugly. I could get on social media and yell about it, criticize, and make snide remarks, making it clear I am not “these type of people”, and how the world is going to h-e double hockey sticks because of it. I could pretend “it’s my duty to inform you” of how degenerate people are and describe in detail their dastardly ways so you, too, can jump on my bandwagon. I could word my posts in such a way which breeds fear and panic about how polluted our world is, where no one would ever want to venture out to that dangerous, scary place called the beach again.

But look at the picture above.

Despite the messiness, the vista was breathtaking. With a focus bent on the negative, I could have missed it.

It’s easy to complain, argue, bicker, and fight. It’s easy to criticize, make fun of, and use derogatory language and hurl insults toward things we don’t like. Or–consider a different option. We could shake our heads, then get busy picking up some trash. It’s not fun. It’s actually kind of gross. It hurts my back a little, too. But doable. Instead of scorning “them”, I realized I could choose to offer forgiveness to those who don’t know better (or maybe do and make a choice to care about things different from me). And all the while, soak in the stunning beauty which surrounds me.

Every day we read and watch nothing but negative behaviors on our news feeds. There’s some pretty awful stuff going on, hurtful and shocking and scary. Is it tainting your view of all humans? Of our country? Of this world?

And what are you doing about it? Are you helping pick up the broken pieces during these crazy times, or just kicking them around, making an even bigger mess? I know, the trash is real, and it’s ugly. And there are dangers associated with it, and things are not as we’d like them to be, and we’re scared.

But try to keep living, humanely, despite it all. It’s easy to kick around the anger, fear, and worry, spreading it to everyone you know. It’s harder to bend down and pick it up, and put it in its place.

If you feel at a loss as to what you can do to help in these unsettling times, consider picking up some of the residue left by others who are hurting, angry, and struggling. Grab a bag and carry it for them, and find a place to discard it, even if you don’t think they deserve it. Maybe it comes in the form of sending encouraging words in a text. Maybe send some money anonymously to help someone who is struggling financially. Maybe share a positive post. Maybe make someone laugh. Maybe let them know you value them. Maybe share a meal, send a gift card, or ask someone how they are doing, and take time to really listen. Discover their needs, their fears, their dreams, and figure out how to help clean up the mess.

Because we all end up in messes sometimes. And we all need others to help when we find ourselves in that messy place.

And while you’re doing that, look up. The sunrise is amazing. Sure, these days you have to look a little harder to see it, but it’s there, every morning, the dawning of a new day. So lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, to the north, and to the south, and to the east and to the west. You won’t want to miss the view.

12 Strategies for Conflict Management

Article submitted by guest author Rosalie Chamberlain

At some point when working with others, conflict arises. What do you do? Avoid it, jump in thoughtfully or jump in reactively?

To start, we must identify the real nature of the conflict. This is not always easy. Whether solving a problem or working toward a specific outcome, when there is a conflict that needs managing it is because of variations of perspectives and desired outcomes.

These tips can help you achieve an effective, mutual outcome.

  1. Be clear about your intention. Are you in it to win or to discover a win-win for all?
  2. Identify the issue or problem. In most conflicts, not all parties will see the issue from the same perspective.
  3. Separate the people involved from the problem. Personalities, history, emotional projection, and biases about others and circumstances often get in the way of staying focused on the issue.
  4. Invite perspectives with an open mind and empathy. Realizing that someone else’s experiences and/or fears play into the situation.
  5. Identify your own fears and concern. Is there data to back them up, or are they based on opinion instead of facts?
  6. What specific facts need to be addressed? Here is another opportunity to gather others’ perspectives.
  7. Come to a consensus. What is the ultimate goal that all parties want to achieve?
  8. Brainstorm actions. Think about the next steps to achieve the mutual goal.
  9. Explore the impact of any actions on the individuals and the organization (or family or community if utilizing the process on a personal basis).
  10. Identify what resources you have to achieve the goals and what resources will be needed.
  11. Set out tasks for parties to own and be accountable for.
  12. Have regular check-ins and discussions in the process, honoring the steps all have taken.

Handling conflict gives us an opportunity to recognize judgment and assumptions and suspend them. It allows us to step in with positive intention rather than avoidance or reactive emotion. It provides the groundwork to be the best we can be and assist others in being their best.