We are finally coming to the end of this presidential election cycle. It has been long and brutal. This column was written prior to the election, so the results were not yet known, but that hardly matters. Whichever candidate becomes president, we have some serious bridgebuilding work to do.

Much of what has been reported at the national level during the past several years has focused on sowing divisiveness. So many media sources want our attention, and dramatic conflict is a great attention-grabber. Everything is exaggerated for maximum shock value. Fears are promoted and manipulated.

But we’re all in this together and must find a way to work with those who have very different ideas about what needs to happen. We have to put things into perspective. While this campaign has been extremely divisive, remembering the horrendous events of the Civil War can give us pause to reflect on how bad it once got.

It’s not that we are bad people – in fact, we are good most of the time. We are just so busy and the issues are so complex, that we try to simplify to make sense of it all. One way to do that is to pick a stream of information that feels comfortable to us, out of the hundreds now available, and just listen to that. Comfortable means non-threatening and known, so we often choose streams that reinforce ideas we already hold.

With so many sources of news, we can now stay in our own little information bubbles. We get out of the habit of listening to those who hold different views. Before long, we start to defend our own preferred ideas as the only truth. We begin to see not only other ideas, but the people who hold them, as threatening. Once we feel threatened, our brains start thinking of ways to protect ourselves from Those Other People. Sometimes we even see a good offense as the best defense and become threatening to others.

As the Civil War so vividly reminds us, that seldom ends well.

So, what can we do? We can choose to counteract the drama. To decrease drama, we should pay attention to the words we use, even when we’re upset. We can avoid distortions in the things we say and avoid using misleading words like “never” and “always”. The vast majority of our communication is non-verbal, so we can choose to pay attention to how we say whatever we say. We may moderate our tone of voice, avoid disrespectful behaviors (rolling our eyes, snorting, and disdainful sighs), and refrain from interrupting.

We can use our best listening skills: separating the person expressing ideas from the ideas they are expressing; cutting people some slack for not expressing themselves eloquently; looking to see what important needs are not being met for others and what needs they are trying to meet through their positions on issues; seeing the good intentions in others.

It also doesn’t hurt to stand back and question our own thoughts. We can allow ourselves to listen to views different from our own. We can even listen to what others say about our favorite ideas! Surely our ideas are strong enough to survive some questioning, and they will likely even improve with some fresh air.

It takes courage to listen to others and consider changing our ideas. Yet this is the home of the brave, so let’s challenge each other to see how well we can move away from this divisiveness and get along better.

It’s easy to feel powerless these days. So much is changing. Life can seem too big, too complex, and out of control.

This sense of powerlessness fosters hopelessness, helplessness, depression, anxiety, and apathy. We think there’s no point in doing anything, since it won’t fix everything. In reality, no one has the power to change the world by themselves, even Bill Gates. It’s an illusion that we have no power at all, though. Each of us has some area in which we can have an impact.

To rediscover our sense of power in the world, it helps to look at one aspect of how power works. There are four dynamics of power between two people: I have power and you don’t, you have power and I don’t, neither of us has power, or both of us has power.

We see the results all around us of the power imbalance when one or the other has power: The assumption that richer people are smarter and more capable than those with less money, regardless of whether the rich people were born into wealth or had a lucky break. Bosses who demand more work are often exploiting a power imbalance, exhorting their underlings to put in sixty hours a week or more.

When neither of us owns our power, it creates a vacuum into which a third party is attracted to wield power over both of us. Many of us have been involved in a work situation where a coworker exerts undue influence when the boss is unwilling to act.

We can group these first three types of interactions as examples of power-over. When one person (or group) has more power than the other, there is a subtle or blatant perception that the one with power is better than the other – smarter, more capable, more deserving, even more blessed by God. This seldom ends well. Power imbalances leave the less-powerful one feeling exploited and resentful, so conflicts inevitably arise.

Power-over scenarios are the basis for the saying “power corrupts”: those with power over others, or who assume power over others, begin to feel entitled, even obliged, to run the lives of others and ignore their desires.

The fourth dynamic, power-with, has more potential for helping us get along. Power-with is based on mutual respect. It acknowledges that we all bring skills, ideas, and energy to a situation. Using that power together brings more creativity to solving problems, creating better systems, and making positive changes in our world.

This is not to say that there should be no leaders, no hierarchy, and no distribution of tasks. It just means that we can all be responsible for bringing respect to those around us, regardless of the structure. I may lead in one area and you in another. And we can combine our power and work together to accomplish changes that will foster a well-functioning community. Shared power breeds cooperation and synergy.

It’s important that we recognize and use the power that we have. Each of us can make a difference. When frustrated with a national or international issue, we can channel that energy into addressing a local example of the same issue. Small actions empower us and empower others who see our behavior. Do something small and non-violent to promote the kinds of changes you’d like to see made on a larger scale. Have conversations. Share your concerns. Vote.

Power dynamics are much more complex than this model, but as we use well the power we do have, it will tend to increase our actual power to get along better.

Some conflicts are problems to be solved: Where is the boundary between two neighbors’ properties? Which days and times will children reside with separating parents? Who will be the project manager on the big project?

But there are a few conflicts that involve finding the sweet spot between two mutually exclusive, equally important and connected opposites, each of which has its own pros and cons. These are referred to as polarities. They often pop up in intractable conflicts and heated discussions of change. Opinions on which “side” is “right” are often deeply held.

The classic example for understanding a polarity is breathing. We cannot inhale and exhale at the same time, but the processes are closely tied to each other and both are absolutely crucial for our continued life. The pro of inhaling is the necessary intake of oxygen into our lungs. The con is the build-up of carbon dioxide in our lungs from the bodily systems that used the oxygen. The pro of exhaling is expelling the toxic carbon dioxide from our lungs. The con is, you guessed it, the lack of oxygen intake. The only way to make this work is for our lungs to alternate in a well-timed movement that makes the most of the advantages of both actions, while minimizing the disadvantages.

So let’s explore other non-biological polarities a bit, and look at how we might manage them successfully.

Protection/openness, independence/connectedness, gun ownership/gun control, individual rights/common good, stress/tranquility, even cultural identity/inclusiveness – these are a few common polarities. Each has significant positive and negative qualities on both sides. We can’t have the pure form of both at the same time, yet we also can’t have one indefinitely without feeling its inherent disadvantages, like trying to inhale constantly without exhaling. Both aspects are true and necessary.

We can’t solve polarities; we can only manage them through time. Our best bet is to take the best from each, while minimizing the worst, creating a dynamic balance. It is a question of both/and, not either/or. We map the pros and cons of each aspect and tweak the system to get as many pros from both sides as possible.

It’s simple in theory, but challenging in practice. Usually we swing wildly from the disadvantages of one to the disadvantages of the other. For example, the extreme of individual rights is anarchy and chaos (think the Old West), which can lead us to idealize the common good and social rules. But a total focus on the good of the whole can lead to the quashing of individual expression, a group-think mentality, and strong censorship. The trick is to catch the point at which we begin feeling the drawbacks of one pole (chaos) and bring in some advantages of the other pole (commonly agreed upon rules of conduct), without succumbing to the drawbacks of that second pole.

In terms of discussing issues that are polarities, we have to be careful. We can get caught-up in arguing for one or the other end of the polarity, as though we could do without the other end and solve things once and for all. Our tendency is to romanticize either the status quo or the pie-in-the-sky change, downplaying the negatives of our side and touting the negatives of the other.

Instead, let’s accept the challenge of seeing the negatives of our “side” and the positives of the other. Rather than insisting that we’re right and they’re wrong, we can acknowledge the interconnectedness of the two poles and recognize that neither pole will be sufficient on its own, we need the perspective of those who see it differently. We can ask them: “Can you help me understand how you see this?”

Managing polarities is not easy, but, then, neither is enduring ongoing divisiveness.

We’ve already explored in this space the effect of stress on conflict. In short, when we’re experiencing too much stress, we become irritable and this readily provokes conflict. A big factor in experiencing high stress levels is expecting ourselves and others to get too much done. We run constantly, crashing into bed (too late) at night, and dreaming of a more relaxed time – like summer.

Summer is supposed to be a relatively relaxed time for many of us, with longer days, good weather, and school being out. So why doesn’t summer feel as relaxing as we’d hoped? There’s a curious pattern when things let up a bit: we either attempt to do everything on our list that we didn’t get to during the busy times, or we just crash and do nothing, yet all too often feel guilty about it.

Rather than either of those options, during slack times we can allow ourselves to relax and take stock, re-evaluating what we expect ourselves and others to do.

What is on your list? It’s helpful to actually make the list. Include everything that’s floating around in your mind, big items and small, work and play. Now it’s time for a reality check. Test the reasonableness of your expectations by mapping out the hours in each day and filling in the blocks. Start with sleep – most sources recommend seven or eight hours of sleep a night for adults to stay healthy and to function well, so fill-in those hours first. Now block out the times for getting ready for the day and mealtimes, including meal prep and clean-up. Add working time, including getting to and from work. And don’t forget family time, too. What’s left is the time for getting to all those things on your list.

How’s that look? Daunting?

Most of us have too much on our lists to ever accomplish in the available time, so we have to choose which to do. When life is crazy, our default method of choosing is often doing what seems most pressing. We don’t think about taking the time to decide if the urgent task is really the most important thing for us to be doing.

It’s particularly helpful during down times to focus on tasks that are important, but not urgent. What items, if done, will help things go more smoothly during busier times? In looking at the list, maybe it makes sense to spend an hour clearing the cluttered desk and let the overflowing closet wait until a rainy day in November. And it’s August – it’s okay to let go of sending the holidays cards that didn’t go out last winter!

Be choosy about which things you commit to doing for the rest of the summer. When we focus on doing the things that are most important to us, whether attending the kids’ games, finishing a project at work, or tending the roses, we experience less guilt when we take the time to just relax.

To increase the realism of our expectations of those close to us, we can do the same process for their days, but remember that we don’t get to fill all of their open time!

With a realistic set of expectations about how much we and others can accomplish, we can relax more fully, knowing we don’t need to run full-tilt all day, every day. We can take time to play and recharge. Being relaxed lowers stress and lower stress helps us be less reactive to each other. And that can take us a long way toward getting along better.

Enjoy!

There’s a dynamic so common in our lives that we barely notice it. It forms the basis of most of our stories in movies, books, songs, and in the tales we tell when we get home from work.

It’s called the Drama Triangle.

As the name implies, there are three roles in the Drama Triangle: The Villain/Persecutor, The Victim (Poor Thing), and the Rescuer/Hero.

The persecutor, of course, is the bully and bad person. A villain is portrayed as mean and uncaring, with the worst of intentions. The victims are at the receiving end of the villain’s dastardly deeds. The poor things are down-trodden and helpless. The Hero rushes in to rescue the defenseless victim(s) from the nasty villain, who is utterly vanquished, and the victims are endlessly grateful to the hero for saving them.

Sound familiar?

It makes a great story, but causes endless problems when we see events in our own lives this way. The triangle is very appealing and magnetic. Not surprisingly, the Hero/Rescuer role is the most inviting spot on the triangle. After all, doesn’t it sound great to be the one who comes into a situation and saves the poor thing(s) from one or more nasties? It can be a big boost to our self-esteem.

Troubles arise because none of us is completely good or completely bad. The story is simple, while life is complex. Our intentions are seldom to harm others, we’re just trying to navigate a complex world, and that usually means trade-offs. (Of course, there are some situations, such as domestic violence, where the abused person must be protected immediately from the abuser, and there is some necessary drama involved in that. Most situations in our lives, however, are not that stark.)

An unfortunate and surprising aspect of this dynamic is that once we enter the triangle, regardless of which role, we can slide into the other roles in the blink of an eye. “I was just trying to help!” cries the would-be rescuer, now claiming to be an injured victim, after having been told what they can do with their well-intentioned fix. A victim can easily turn on the hero when the latter’s fix made things worse.

How do we get out of this story? As usual, awareness of the dynamic is the first step. Stand back and look at the situation from an outsider’s perspective – is there someone playing the victim, persecutor, and/or rescuer? Which role are we playing?

A really good way to break the hold of the victim/villain/hero story is to focus on the problem, not on the people. Instead of blaming a perceived villain or trying to be the knight in shining armor, assume the problem is more complex. See if everyone is willing to step off the triangle to consider together all the messy complications and competing desires.

Also, if the victims are adults in a non-life-threatening situation, assume they are able to help themselves, to ask for and accept help, and to be able to survive the current crisis. Otherwise, we can create dependency on the rescuer(s) and more feelings of powerlessness in the victims. If we think we have some aid to offer those who seem to be suffering, it’s best to ask them whether they would like help, how we can help, and when. Most of us are stronger than we may seem when we’re caught off-guard by a crisis. The best way we can help each other is to lend a hand, rather than take the lead in someone else’s life.

Once we become aware of the drama triangle, we can see it at all levels – at work, in our families, in our communities, in our government, and in the world. We can feel helpless and out of control by telling ourselves this three-actor story about issues. But if we take time to consider, together, alternative ways of seeing the situation, we can end up with a solution that can work for everyone.

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.