Let’s talk politics. Or not.

In less than six months, we’ll make a choice, as a country, who we’ll have as our next president. There are discussions everywhere about candidates and issues. Much has also been written about the incivility of the discourse, and it does seem that there is more violence at political events this year.

So how do we make way for the political discussions necessary for our democracy?

Some of us were taught that it’s not “polite” to talk about politics. Presumably that was because of the discomfort some felt at disagreements and strong discussions. Even now there is the fear that talking about politics will ruin relationships. But there are ways of talking about politics that can be civil and positive.

The most important step is to listen to the other person. We need to become curious about their thinking and pay attention as though we will need to report back what they’re saying. Assume there is logic and thought behind their position. Listen for that logic – what does their viewpoint say about their values, their needs, the things that are very important to them? For example, maybe family ties, respect, and safety are strong concerns. Perhaps they express a need for financial security. Do you share those values and needs? Perhaps your values and needs are the same, but you differ on strategies for expressing and meeting them. Often we can find common ground by remarking on the mutual importance of the shared values.

Once you’ve listened well, share your opinion civilly, without personal attacks on the person you’re talking with, or their favored candidate(s). It’s so easy for us to start attacking the character of those who disagree with us. After all, they can’t be as good as we are if they believe THAT way, right? It’s important to remember that attacking another’s character, rather than debating views, says more about us than them – it shows that our emotions, including fear, have overtaken our rational minds and we’re reacting rather than responding.

If things start going off the rails, revert to listening. When there’s a pause in their comments, go ahead and paraphrase the gist of what you just heard them say. Ask if that’s what they meant and listen to their answer. Maybe ask them more about the things you don’t understand. Once you’ve done that, you’re much more likely to have an audience for what you have to say. Of course, some people aren’t interested in dialogue, but it increases the chance that they will listen in turn.

Perhaps most difficult, let it be okay if the other person is not open to hearing anything other than their own viewpoint. We certainly can’t make anyone listen, think, or change their mind if they don’t want to. After all, past efforts of others to try and force us to change our minds probably weren’t very successful either.

In that vein, accept others’ desire to avoid talking about politics, presidential or otherwise. Some people prefer to keep their views private or make their decisions after quietly researching the issues. That’s no more or less valid than having political discussions with others.

The underlying thread of these suggestions is respect for those who have different views and/or different ways of expressing them. As long as there is mutual respect, conversations can be civil. We only have control over our side of the conversation, but showing respect can make a big difference. Getting along in a presidential election year means we have to be aware of how we might be adding to the problem and be willing to change our behavior to match our desire for civil discussion.

The one thing that is just about guaranteed to create conflict is change. Change leads to stress and we know that people who are stressed tend to have more painful, “bad” conflict in their lives, which leads to more stress and a downward-spiraling situation. Yet change is an integral part of life, so how can we minimize unhealthy conflict during times of particularly intense change?

The type of conflict that arises from change depends on our response to the change. So let’s look at change.

Change can seem chaotic to the people involved, but change follows a distinct pattern. Becoming aware of the process we go through when adapting to change can help greatly. At the very least, it helps us know that what we’re going through is normal. Knowing the pattern allows us to see more clearly how to make the most of the change, while reducing the fear, uncertainties, and stress, which can keep unhealthy conflict in check.

The first stage of change is the end of the old way. We often think of change as responding to something new, but this, by definition, requires us to let go of the old.

Yet we don’t get to jump right to the new way. First we have to go through a fallow time that is neither just old nor new, but something of both. This is the wilderness or limbo phase and is generally quite uncomfortable for most of us. We don’t know what will happen or when. It’s out of our control and the only way to get through this phase is to wait it out and don’t lose hope.

Next the new way really begins. Often, this is where we all want to rush ahead to instead of grieving the old and hanging out in the wilderness phase. But once we get there, it feels new, risky, and it’s solid evidence that the old way is truly gone. Successfully adapting requires a willingness to take on the new identity as someone who accepts the new reality.

It is not, however, as straightforward and chronological a process as it sounds – the phases overlap each other and we circle around to revisit phases as the change unfolds.

How do we reduce conflict during this process? Well, first, try not to take out your anxiety too much on those around you. When it happens, be free with apologies. A change for one person can have a long reach to those around them. Reorganization at work affects the spouse, kids, even friends – at the very least, they have to listen to all the stories about what a pain the change is.

If you are the one going through the transition most directly, it helps to acknowledge and remember that you are “not yourself” while part of your identity is shifting. Lower your expectations about how much you can accomplish, your ability to focus, and even your moods.

If you are less directly impacted, recognize that a change for someone close to you is a change for you, as well. Be aware that your spouse, your child, or your friend will have to become at least slightly different as part of adapting to change.

It always helps to use your communication tools. Listen to others’ concerns about how a change is affecting them, how it’s changing your behavior, and their fears and hopes about the change. Figure out what you’re feeling and share that, as well as your fears and hopes, with trusted others.

Life is full of constant change, but the resulting conflict doesn’t have to be all bad. When we become aware of where we are in the cycle of change, we can help reduce the stress we feel and its negative impacts on those around us.

A number of people expressed interest in learning more about Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, after I discussed it in general in an earlier column. So I am exploring each of the four skills of EQ individually in separate columns.

To review, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and use emotions effectively. People who know and manage their own feelings well, and who comprehend and deal effectively with other peoples’ feelings are at an advantage in any sphere of life. The four skills of EQ are Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Social Awareness, and Social Management. The skill we’ll explore today is social management.

Social or relationship management is the ability to handle the interactions we have with others constructively and positively. When we are adept at this EQ skill, we are able to establish and nurture relationships, build alliances, influence others, problem-solve, and collaborate – all those yummy cooperative things! If just one person in a group has these problem-solving and collaborative decision-making skills, this can have a positive influence on a whole group, so it pays to develop these skills.

Social management rests on the foundation of self-awareness, self-regulation, and social awareness. Once we can recognize and manage our own emotions, the ability to handle relationships well includes sensing the developmental needs of others and bolstering their abilities, as well as inspiring and guiding individuals and groups. This skill is about focusing attention on the other person – their wants, aspirations, and concerns. With good social management skills, we can lead change effectively and help others with life’s transitions.

Having good social management skills allows us to create relationships that are clear, supportive, mutually beneficial, and well-defined (that is, with good boundaries). We are also better able to be flexible and remain curious when difficult situations arise within our relationships. Our long-term relationships in particular are excellent laboratories for building our social management skills!

High social management skills can give us a strategic advantage in circumstances if strong emotions develop and affect communication and the ability of parties to make rational decisions. Negotiating, resolving conflict, and working with others toward a shared goal are instances where being adept with social management skills is very useful.

Those who can successfully recognize emotions in themselves and others are able to make more accurate assessments of peoples’ words and phrases. Words are only a small part of our conversations. The non-verbal components can be as much as 90% of the message. Decoding the non-verbal aspects takes EQ.

Social management allows for the appreciation of different points of view, so it touches on the issues of diversity, inclusivity, and tolerance of the opposing viewpoints we see everywhere in the news. With high EQ, there’s an appreciation of the importance of cultural and ethnic differences, and astuteness in considering the needs and concerns of others in decision-making. Without basic EQ skills, at best we’re just trying to keep from saying offensive things (my personal definition of “political correctness”). If we are truly caring, empathetic, and curious, we focus less on saying the wrong thing and more on making authentic connections across differences of all types.

Social management is essential for finding and maintaining our place in the social network. The skill of social management is the highest manifestation of emotional intelligence (EQ). Using the other EQ skills of self-awareness, self-regulation, and social awareness, we can be more successful in getting along well.

A number of people expressed interest in learning more about Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, after I discussed it in general in an earlier column. So I am exploring each of the four skills of EQ individually in separate columns.

To review, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and use emotions effectively. People who know and manage their own feelings well, and who comprehend and deal effectively with other peoples’ feelings are at an advantage in any sphere of life. The four skills of EQ are Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Social Awareness, and Social Management. The skill we’ll explore today is social awareness.

Social awareness involves recognizing emotions in others. It rests on the foundation of self-awareness, because by knowing our own feelings, we are able to gauge how other people are feeling, based on a variety of either readily observable or subtle clues. When we are adept at this skill, we can accurately identify other’s emotions as we interact with them as individuals or in a group setting. By sensing others’ feelings, we can guess how they might see the world, too.

We’re social animals and have developed an intricate communication system. Facial expressions and gestures influence our ability to understand what other people are feeling. It’s estimated that 80-90% of communication between people is non-verbal: body language, facial expression, tone of voice, eye contact, etc.

Each emotion conveys a complex message and can signal the relative importance of issues and values. In working through conflicts in our lives, paying close attention to emotional nuances in ourselves and others contributes important insights and helps us to develop attractive trade-offs to encourage win/win solutions. For example, you may have noticed that a colleague hates to write reports. You enjoy writing, but you hate making calls, while she seems to enjoy them, so there’s the possibility that you can create some way of swapping duties so you both enjoy work a bit more.

Empathy is also an important aspect of social awareness. Empathy is an awareness of another’s needs and the ability to see things as they look from another’s place. It is the ability to imagine ourselves in their place, to stand in another’s shoes and to share in their thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears. Empathy includes sensing what another might need from you, but remember, of course, that you can choose whether or not to meet that need.

Empathy is critical to successful interactions with others. It is a major factor in developing overall rapport, and is essential in developing trust and openness in a relationship. With empathy, there is a connection between us that is typified by cooperation and agreement. Empathy is essential for effective communication because it allows us to develop plans that consider the needs and concerns of all involved.

Each EQ skill is linked to the other skills. The ability to perceive emotions in others creates opportunities for us to self-regulate in a way that can enhance the effectiveness of how we deliver information. For example, self-awareness, self-regulation, and social awareness, used together, enable us to choose the time for sharing good or bad news based on the emotional state of the other person. Our level of emotional intelligence skills can either help or hinder what we want to get across, affecting how well our relationships work and how well we get along together.

A number of people expressed interest in learning more about Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, after I discussed it in general in an earlier column. So I am exploring each of the four skills of EQ individually in separate columns.

To review, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and use emotions effectively. People who know and manage their own feelings well, and who comprehend and deal effectively with other peoples’ feelings are at an advantage in any sphere of life. The four skills of EQ are Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Social Awareness, and Social Management. The skill we’ll explore today is Self-Regulation.

Self-regulation is the ability to manage our feelings so our response is appropriate to the situation.  Self-regulation rests on the foundation of self-awareness – first we notice what we are feeling, and then we can choose how to express that feeling.

Self-regulation is a key component of EQ because it enables us to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check. When we’re stressed, anxious, or angry we can’t access our most creative and rational self. Managing our emotions involves the ability to interrupt runaway emotions and redirect attention to other priorities. We use our higher brain function to regulate the knee-jerk responses that our emotions may bring up.

When we are adept at the skill of self-regulation, we can notice our emotions and yet not be ruled by them. Self-regulation is about being able to have emotional reactions to difficult experiences without being possessed by them, so we’re not just bouncing from one reaction to another. Also, when we are taken over by emotions, as sometimes happens to everyone, self-regulation allows us to regain our equilibrium more quickly.

Self-regulation is not just about stopping unhelpful reactions. Managing our emotions effectively allows us to maintain our integrity and act in line with our values, perhaps striving to meet a standard of excellence we’ve set. By working constructively with our emotions, we pursue goals despite obstacles and setbacks, for example.

It can be challenging to manage our emotions in ways that will serve us. Something that doesn’t work is to try and suppress our emotions. No matter how hard we try, strong emotion will find a way to express itself, so it’s best for all involved if we acknowledge those emotions and choose whether and how we will respond.

Feelings are formed in relation to our thoughts, so we need to understand the thoughts that cause the emotions we feel. For example, we all have things that set us off, triggers that tend to bring-on strong feelings. If one of your triggers is seeing a parent texting while driving with their kids in the car, you have several options: you can rant to your friends, develop negative generalizations about parenting these days, or perhaps find a way to make parents more aware of the risks they are taking.

It’s important that we not judge ourselves as we explore our thoughts and the resultant feelings. We’re not bad if we think and feel something negative; bringing awareness to those thoughts allows us to choose whether to change them. This can have the very beneficial effect of increasing our comfort with diversity: we may feel fear when we see someone who doesn’t look like us, that’s natural, but we can then choose whether to treat the person in front of us as a stereotype or an individual.

Self-regulation is a vital emotional intelligence skill because it is about managing our emotions for a positive outcome, in line with our values. Once we become aware of and manage our emotions, we are able to build the other EQ skills of social awareness and social management to be more successful in our relationships.

A number of people expressed interest in learning more about Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, after my last column. So I will be exploring each of the four skills of EQ individually in separate columns.

To review, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and use emotions effectively. People who know and manage their own feelings well, and who comprehend and deal effectively with other peoples’ feelings are at an advantage in any sphere of life. The four skills of EQ are Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Social Awareness, and Social Management. The skill we’ll explore today is self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and identify what we’re feeling, while we’re feeling it. This is the core of emotional intelligence, and all the other EQ skills rest on this foundation. When we are adept at this skill, we are familiar with our own emotions and are able to express or name what we are feeling.

Recognizing our emotions means having part of our attention focused on what it is we’re feeling, even as emotion floods our mind and body. This involves monitoring our thoughts and body for reactions. Being unable to notice our true feelings in the moment leaves us at their mercy and we’re pulled this way and that as our emotions shift.

And flooding is an appropriate image – we can all remember times when unbridled emotions swamped our ability to think rationally or creatively until we calmed down. When emotions highjack us, all of our brain power goes toward emotional response and we literally have no immediate access to our higher brain functions. That’s what’s going on when we think of the perfect thing we wish we had said during the heated argument that ended half an hour ago!

It’s important to remember that humans are emotional beings – emotions are important signals to us about our environment. Strong emotions signal that something important is going on in our lives, so we need to pay attention. In general, blocked goals or unmet needs create negative or unpleasant emotions. Likewise, goals we attain or needs that are being met create positive, pleasant emotions. For example, anger tells us that someone or some behavior has crossed our personal boundaries for appropriateness. Joy alerts us to a situation that is giving us something we really need to have in our lives.

Intriguingly, studies of those with serious damage to the emotional centers of the brain are not able to make decisions – they can list all the pros and cons of different courses of action, but are absolutely unable to choose between them, even for the simplest of decisions. While it’s important to consider rationally the consequences of different sides of an issue, we make the final choice, consciously or unconsciously, based on emotion.

Understanding our emotional responses helps us to understand our own behavioral patterns – how we act when we’re feeling a certain way. This skill gives us the ability to realistically assess our strengths and weaknesses, and those of others, which leads to a strong sense of our self-worth and capabilities, fostering self-confidence. With a healthy sense of our abilities and limits, we can be more receptive to feedback about how our behavior affects others, or “constructive criticism”.

When we can acknowledge our emotions openly and straightforwardly, it helps us to avoid being manipulated by our emotions. Others will be less able to use our own emotions to take advantage of us, whether to sell us the latest widget or to extort money for dubious charitable causes.

The skill of self-awareness is the foundation on which our level of emotional intelligence (EQ) rests. Once we can tell what we’re feeling in response to what’s happening around us, we are able to build the other skills of self-regulation, social awareness, and social management on that knowledge, to be more successful in our relationships.

Conflicts are emotional. They arise out of emotionally loaded issues and fuel strong emotion. Getting along well requires skill in handling emotions, but there hasn’t been much educational emphasis put on emotional proficiency. Many fields of study still actually shun any consideration of emotion, deeming it a distraction from important work, or worse, intellectual weakness.

A few decades ago, however, two social scientists described a type of knowing that was complementary to the more familiar IQ, and called it Emotional Intelligence (EI). Rather than the purely nuts and bolts intelligence of IQ, emotional intelligence can be described as a form of social acumen involving the ability to monitor our own and others’ feelings, and to use this information to guide our thoughts and actions.

Many studies since then have indicated that people who know and manage their own feelings well, and who comprehend and deal effectively with other people’s feelings are at an advantage in any sphere of life. Those with high levels of EI tend to be more successful in relationships both at home and in the workplace, regardless of the type of work. And unlike IQ, EI can be improved – there are specific skills that can be learned and practiced.

So how do we improve our EI? It starts, as is so often the case, with self-awareness. The foundation of becoming emotionally adept is to become familiar with our own emotions and be able to recognize and identify what we’re feeling, while we’re feeling it. This involves monitoring our thoughts and body for reactions. For example, if I notice my jaw is clenching, blood is flowing to my face, and I’m thinking how stupid that person is, I know I am getting angry. Or, if my thoughts are cloudy, my throat feels constricted, and my eyes are prickling with tears, I recognize I’m feeling sad.

Part of this fundamental cornerstone of emotional intelligence is the ability to have part of our attention aware of what we’re feeling even as emotion floods our mind and body. Being unable to notice our true feelings in the moment leaves us at their mercy and we’re pulled this way and that as our emotions shift. We can all remember times when unbridled emotions swamped our ability to think rationally or creatively until we calmed down – that’s what goes on when we think of the perfect thing we wish we had said during the heated argument that happened an hour ago!

Managing feelings so our response is appropriate to the situation is a skill that builds on our awareness of our emotions. First we notice how we are feeling, and then we can choose our expression of that feeling. We may be feeling strong frustration with a supervisor’s decision, for example, but it is important to our careers to be able to resist throwing a tantrum in her office.

In addition to knowing and controlling our own feelings, we need to be able to gauge how other people are feeling, based on a variety of readily observable or subtle clues. Empathy, the ability to attune emotionally or know how another feels, is critical to successful interactions with others.

When we can interact successfully with others, we are able to establish and nurture relationships, build alliances, influence others, problem-solve, and collaborate. This is an essential skill for finding and maintaining our place in the social network.

Knowing our own emotions, regulating them, recognizing emotions in others, and handling relationships are key aspects of emotional intelligence. We can improve our skill levels and thus build our emotional intelligence. This, in turn will allow us to have greater success in getting along with others.

People occasionally ask me about coworkers or family members who don’t respond to the usually effective tools and techniques of promoting clear communication for dealing with a conflict situation. There are some people who always seem to be in the middle of big, dramatic disagreements, and are resistant to resolving them.

In the world of conflict studies, people with these tendencies are referred to as “high conflict people”. They focus on blaming others for everything, take no personal responsibility for their role in conflicts, think in all-or-nothing terms, and have over-the-top emotions and emotional behavior. For example, a high conflict coworker would consider it acceptable behavior to go stomping out of a meeting because of a perceived slight by someone, yelling that the whole team is against them.

True high conflict people generally have underlying psychological disorders that are beyond our untrained ability to chart and change. But the point is not to make a diagnosis. We just want to recognize characteristics enough to deal with these dramatic personalities and avoid escalating the situation. Fortunately, there are some guidelines for what we can do, and not do.

When interacting with someone whose emotional behavior seems way out of line with the situation, the single most important thing to remember is to manage your own emotions. High conflict personalities live in a world of intense, easily escalated emotions over which they feel little control. Anger, in particular, is a common emotion. Emotions and conflict are contagious. Our natural response is to get angry and become embroiled in defending ourselves and attacking or belittling the other person. Unfortunately, that is a certain way for the interaction to spiral out of control.

So, do not argue with the person. Instead, take a deep breath (or several). Acknowledge your emotions and allow yourself to choose not to be taken over by your feelings. Keep calm – peacefulness can also be contagious.

Once you’ve found some semblance of calm in yourself, you can engage the highly emotional person in a specific way. Bill Eddy, a therapist, attorney, and researcher in high conflict behavior uses the acronym EAR to represent the components to remember: Empathy, Attention, & Respect. Let the person know that you can relate to the pain they’re experiencing – “Wow, I can see that you’re really upset.” Express your willingness to listen to them – “Tell me what’s going on” – and then listen. Find something about them you can respect and share it with them – “I respect the effort that you’ve made on this project.”

Taking these steps will generally calm the highly emotional person enough to either try some problem-solving or allow you to leave without bad feelings. Granted, these three things are the last things we feel like giving someone who’s ranting near or at us. It takes practice and a willingness to override our knee-jerk reactions, but it works. Remember that empathizing, listening, and showing respect do not mean you agree with the person or condone their behavior.

Avoid getting hooked into rescuing them, too. High conflict people like to have others solve their problems, so they can blame others if things go wrong, which they eventually will. Be careful to set clear boundaries with them. They can be exhausting to be around and you’ll generally want to minimize contact. Of course, if you think there is any danger of imminent physical harm, just get out of the situation immediately.

We don’t often find ourselves having to interact with high conflict personalities, but when we do, it’s important to know that getting riled ourselves will be counterproductive. Embodying calm, however, at least on the outside, can de-escalate the high emotions.

This column often deals with how to prevent unhealthy conflict – but what do we do if things have already gotten uncomfortable?

Having an ongoing, tense relationship in our lives can be very draining. We’re always on the lookout for that person, tensed against the possibility of running into them at the store or an event. Since we tend to regard conflict as a threat, we scan our environment for that person the way we would scan on a hike for bears or rattlesnakes. It’s worth our while to look more closely at those conflicts in our lives, to consider how we can address them.

First, we need to look at the importance of the relationship to us. Is the person a family member or a close colleague at work? Maybe they’re just someone we see a lot in our usual haunts around town. It definitely takes energy to address conflict, so we want to make sure the relationship is worth the effort. If the relationship isn’t that important and we only see this person infrequently, it may be best to just let things be. We don’t need to be on perfect terms with everyone in our lives. Each of us will have a different take on the trade-offs involved, depending on our level of comfort with conflict and addressing it.

If, however, the relationship is important to us, personally or professionally, it’s worth spending some time and energy to see if we can restore things to a more enjoyable level. The problem can be where to begin. If we want to improve the relationship, we should make the first move. We often get stuck when there’s been a rift – nursing wounds and waiting for the other person to approach. Both people begin to harden in their respective positions and the conflict deepens. If you decide you want things to change, the next step is to let go of who was wrong and reach out to the other person.

We also need to get a sense of what lies at the heart of the conflict. Was there a clash of political or religious opinions? If so, the conflict may not be resolvable by discussing it and the best course might be to just avoid particular subjects when talking with that person.

Other times the conflict may be rooted in the way a particular incident was perceived. Maybe one or both parties felt a slight, or went away from a gathering with hurt feelings. Sometimes peace offerings like buying them a coffee or another small gesture is all that is needed to put things right.

If you decide to start the conversation, it’s important take a little time to consider what you want to say and how you need to say it. A carefully planned approach will increase the likelihood that your overture will bridge the gap rather than widening it. Be very careful not to stick any zingers in there – though it can be hard to resist. Avoid acting superior or magnanimous for being the one reaching out.

Don’t expect all the walls to come tumbling down – you may not even get a response. If so, keep focusing on the positive aspects of the other person. It takes two sides to have a fight, so if you can truly let it go, that’s the end of it for you. You have the relief of knowing you did your utmost and don’t have to dread seeing the other person.

If they respond well, also reaching out to help bridge the gap, great! Keep things positive and honest. Feel free to express your relief about getting along better.

Humans are built to watch for threats. We’re descended from people who were very good at watching for – and therefore surviving – attacks from dangerous predators or warring clans.

Then there was the issue of tribal pecking order – our rank in the small, social clans sometimes meant the difference between getting the resources our family needed to survive, and perishing. This made us very sensitive to perceived slights to our status. The ability to determine someone else’s intent could mean the difference between life and death. It was safest to assume the worst.

Nowadays, we live in much different conditions than our forebears. We are no longer in danger of mortal attacks from enemy clans. Status is still important, but no longer critical. We still have that wiring, however – our senses are still always monitoring our interactions for danger, even in mundane situations. When any conflict arises, we immediately become wary of the other’s intent.

For example, where do our thoughts go when we receive an email or voice mail that is blunt or curt? If we assume the worst, things can quickly spiral out of control and we end up with a lot of drama and stress. We make up stories about others’ intentions and then forget we made them up, treating them as true and causing all sorts of confusion. We try to figure out why they are after us and plan how we will get back at them. It takes a lot of time and energy.

But what if we give others the benefit of the doubt and assume, initially at least, that they have good intentions? If we ignore the apparent slight and assume the other person was just having a bad day, which is the most likely situation, we are choosing to trust them until we find out more. We can then ask what they meant by their words or actions. Asking questions for clarification will lead to understanding and help improve relationships.

Extending trust pays dividends and increases the trust others extend to us, which in turn makes it easier for everyone to trust each other’s intentions next time. The negative spiral becomes a positive one.

If we can’t ask, or don’t feel comfortable asking why the other person did or said something, we can explore other interpretations of an incident than just a negative one. Maybe they were just in a hurry, or feeling stressed or crabby over something that had nothing to do with us at all. Most people are as wrapped up in their own lives as we are in ours – it is highly unlikely that anyone wakes up every morning looking forward to tormenting us today.

Of course, we can’t pretend that there aren’t people who wish us ill. There are people who take advantage of others to enhance their own standing. We need to temper how much we trust, based on past behavior, though one bad incident doesn’t guarantee continued harm.

What if the other person sees us as the problem? Sometimes we’re wrong and have to take responsibility for how our actions have affected others. We intended to help, but may have unintentionally offended or hurt the other person. If so, we need to acknowledge that and apologize. There’s nothing wrong with the other person if they take something we say or do in a different way than we meant it, just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with us if we do the same thing.

Mistakes and miscommunication will occur. When we assume good intentions and offer the benefit of the doubt, we allow others the space to be in a bad mood, or distracted, or stressed. In other words, allow them to be human.