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Workplace Violence, Workplace Bullying, Harassment, Discrimination, and Retaliation as Abuses of Power and Control-Over Resulting from Permissive Corporate Cultures and Deficiencies in Emotional Intelligence Skills: What Can We Learn From the Recent Yale University Workplace Violence Incident?

Denise A. Romano, MA, EdM. Certified EI Coach

Denise A. Romano, MA, EdM. Certified EI Coach

There are inherent power differentials in workplace relationships, and there is nothing wrong with that. It only becomes a problem when authority is misused and abused resulting in bullying, harassment, formal complaints, formal charges with external agencies, lawsuits, low morale, slander, harmful gossip, and workplace violence, among other things.

We can learn important lessons from the Yale workplace violence incident. First, we can learn that even if there is no overt incident or complaint, we still have a responsibility to be aware of the dynamics of workgroups and intervene if there are issues that could potentially provoke an employee’s disposition to murderous rage. How do we do this? We aren’t psychic.

Many states are now implementing mandatory workplace violence prevention laws that insist upon surveying employees, documenting incidents of workplace violence, and otherwise doing whatever possible to remain vigilant of risk factors for workplace violence.

What are the risk factors? The FBI tells us that workplace bullying is a high risk factor for workplace violence. So does a great amount of psychological research and occupational research and statistics. We know from OD research that emotional intelligence can be developed and improved and that combinations of improved emotional intelligence, sound conflict resolution skills, high-quality diversity training, and workplace cultures that mandate respectful interactions regardless of conflict are protective factors against workplace violence. So, why aren’t all workplaces doing all they can to implement protective factors and prevent risk factors?

We’ll get to that soon. First, an important look at the underlying employee experiences that are not as invisible as they seem if workplaces look for them. Workplaces can only competently address risk factors for workplace violence if they understand how to recognize them. And they can only recognize all of them if they actively look for them.

Workplace violence is preceded by anger, whether in our understanding of the situation that anger seems rational to us or not. We do have a responsibility to understand those workplace situations that produce anger in employees, even if in understanding those situations, we are forced to address uncomfortable realities about the workplace including the existence of various dysfunctions such as disparate treatment, cronyism, needs for diversity training, or needs for a complete overhaul of workplace culture. We must be willing to see these things and address them with intellectual and emotional honesty and integrity. We also must be willing to intervene.

Even the NY Times reports on how workplace bullying contributes to sleep problems:

Anger in workplaces that goes unexpressed either because the angry person is not making it known or because employees in general are not welcomed to provide feedback or complaints or because employees have directly been told to not express any anger, is a very serious risk factor for workplace violence. According to the FBI report on workplace violence:

“It is the threats, harassment, bullying, domestic violence, stalking, emotional abuse, intimidation, and other forms of behavior and physical violence that, if left unchecked, may result in more serious violent behavior.”

“A plan should take into account the workplace culture: work atmosphere, relationships, traditional management styles, etc. If there are elements in that culture that appear to foster a toxic climate—tolerance of bullying or intimidation; lack of trust among workers, between workers and management; high levels of stress, frustration and anger; poor communication; inconsistent discipline; and erratic enforcement of company policies—these should be called to the attention of top executives for remedial action.”

“In defining acts that will not be tolerated, the statement should make clear that not just physical violence but threats, bullying, harassment, and weapons possession are against company policy and are prohibited.” (FBI, monograph on workplace violence).

Clearly, the murderer of Annie Le had something he was angry about. Was his anger rational? We don’t know. Does it matter if his anger was rational? Yes and No. Whether anger is rational or not, agreed with or not, understood or not; it does need to be acnkowledged and addressed skillfully by highly qualified professionals in workplaces.

His anger could have been addressed if those with the skills to address it with competence had been aware of his anger. Had there been awareness of his anger by the right people, and had his anger been acknowledged as a risk factor for workplace violence, this murder might have been prevented.

Mark Slaski, Phd, states that the expression of anger is about power. Issues of power and control in every aspect of humans’ lives are fertile ground for producing anger. There are striking resemblances between the misuse and/or abuse of authority or even assumed (not actual) authority in workplaces and issues around power and control in both cult (high-control) groups and domestic violence situations.

First, power and/or authority is being abused and mis-used in all of those situations. Secondly, the trauma that results for those on the receiving end of such abusive behavior is often very similar. Most employees have had childhood, adolescent, family, relationship, and other workplace experiences that involved the misuse of power and control that caused them to be very angry and/or feel unfairly victimized. This is a part of the modern human condition.

These experiences can range from the mild to the severe: We know that one in three American women has been sexually assaulted and approximately 1 in 10 Americans has been the victim of some kind of crime. We know that there is bullying in schools, hazing in high schools and colleges, bullying in workplaces, various forms of child abuse in families, hazing on athletic teams, clergy abuse, abuse and racial profiling by various police officers, and even abuse of authority by some TSA agents. We know that most people have experienced some form of unhealthy power and/or control over them, which has resulted in anger. We know that throughout human history there are examples of persons in positions of authority who abuse their power.

This teaches us that before anyone is put into a position of authority, they need – we all need – training to understand our authority, understand what abusing it is or would look like, understand how not to abuse that authority, understand our own anger at previous situations in our lives which might contribute to our likelihood of abusing our authority, and we must understand a framework of values to guide us during those situations when we might be most likely to abuse our authority.

This also teaches us that in workplaces, where there are many interactive relationships around authority, that we have a serious duty to ensure through trainings, workplace cultural values, and consistent application of policies and procedures that authority is not misused either brazenly or subtley. And when it is, we need to intervene to prevent the abuse and feelings of anger that result. Furthermore, when it results, we must work not only to prevent future instances, but to repair and make whole those who have been injured by the abuse of authority, otherwise, we invite dormant anger that can take any number of forms, including workplace violence.

Jill Sarah Moscowitz, a mediator and trainer, ( teaches that workplace conflicts are messages to us about something that needs attention in the workplace system. She is absolutely correct, and the more we can look at these situations in this systems-approach way, the more able we will be to competently address and prevent workplace violence.

Often, unhealthy power and control-over (as opposed to healthy power that is shared, agreed upon, and somewhat fluid and flexible) – is also assumed by those who do not have actual workplace power or organizational authority. People who do this like to make others falsely believe they have more authority, skill, knowledge, experience, or organizational power than they actually have in reality. These people have a need to feel “more than” they actually perceive themselves, and because of their deficient emotional intelligence in every area, they often lie about what they know, what information they are privy to, who they know, who they have influence over, what their skills are, what their abilities are, prior positions they’ve held — and anything else they can think of in order to make others think they are more knowledgeable, skilled, “important” and more organizationally powerful than they actually are.

This points to deficiencies in every subscale of the EQi Emotional Intelligence measures: self-regard, emotional self-awareness, assertiveness, independence, self-actualiziation, empathy, social responsibility, interpersonal relationship, stress tolerance, impulse control, reality-testing, flexibility, problem-solving, optimism, and happiness. (

To Learn More about Emotional Intelligence and How it Can Help Workplaces, Employees, and Management:

When a workplace allows one or more employees to regularly mislead other employees about how much organizational power they have, the workplace becomes complicit in supporting this subtle but very damaging abuse of power. These kinds of employees often create such false power and authority so they can then wield it abusively and misuse it frequently. Intimidation, coercion, gossip-mongering, and attempting to have unhealthy control over other employees are usually what results when this is allowed to go on.

Bullying and unlawful harassment will not be far behind these behaviors. The very troubling thing about bullying is that there can often be a fine line between what is considered lawful harassment in the US (bullying) and unlawful harassment. For example, consider a person who has cognitive or emotional disabilities that are covered by ADA (now ADAAA). Consider that these disabilities are largely invisible to most people. This person is disabled, yet the disability is not immediately apparent.

Now consider some co-workers who think they have a right to “lawfully” bully such an employee. They may be unaware of ADA and what their responsibilities as employees are to comply with ADA and ADAAA. Their training may not have gone into sufficient detail about what constitutes a disability and how some disabilities are invisible. They may say “we just don’t like him/her”. Whenever people say something like this, they are often covering up a known or unknown reason for disliking someone. Frequently, this reason — whether known or unknown — is due to bias based on an issue of identity such as those considered protected categories under EEO law. Many employees are smart enough to not say things like, “I don’t like him because of his race/sexuality/gender/age/disability” etc. And, there are still a great many people who react with primal disgust in a very unconscious way to those who are different from them in some way.

They may think they are well within their rights to bully and harass this person. What they don’t realize is that their bullying of this person based on attributes that are due to the invisible disability does qualify their behavior as unlawfully harassing under federal ADA, ADAAA, and EEO laws. This is a very serious issue given that the US (and worldwide) workforce has more and more persons with various disabilities in it. In the US, the population of disabled employees will only grow as more and more veterans return from active military duty.

A perfect example is a veteran who has PTSD. Such a disability is invisible, yet is very real. What might happen to a veteran with PTSD who is then bullied and harassed at work? Would this bullying constitute unlawful harassment under ADA/ADAAA and EEO laws? I think a more important question is why are we even asking if it constitutes unlawful harassment? Why aren’t we as HR professionals and as employees demanding that corporations mandate codes of conduct around civility and take them seriously? Where is the Department of Labor’s voice on this important point? Where are the voices of all employment lawyers on this important point? Rather than focusing on not wanting yet another thing that employees can take legal action over, why not address the enormous expense and risk for ADA/ADAAA/EEO liability that exists in refusing to address this? It’s alot like private medical insurance companies spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising to defeat a national healthcare plan so they can avoid having to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to insure people without health insurance. The money is still being spent; the costs are still there. Why not make the choice that creates the least personal and organizational harm?

We in the US (and in most other nations) have agreed that harassment, discrimination, and retaliation based on various characteristics is reprehensible and punishable by significant monetary torts as well as workplace monitoring by federal and/or state authorities. We have decided this as part of our societal norms. Those companies that choose to do business in the US agree to these terms. All persons who choose to work in the US also agree to these terms, whether they know it or not.

And if employees do not know that, then their workplaces are failing in their legal duties to prevent harassment, discrimination, and retaliation under EEO/ADAAA laws from happening at all.

The law says that workplaces have a responsibility to PREVENT harassment, discrimination, and retaliation based on those protected categories (which vary from state to state). Usually, policies, training, and behavioral norms in the form of workplace culture enforce employee behavior and do prevent this unlawful behavior. And, often, those things are not in place or they are but aren’t taken seriously, and then harassment, discrimination, and retaliation can occur.

Even if policies and training are in place, but behavioral norms of organizational leaders or those with great organizational power are not in alignment with these policies and trainings, then employees will model their behavior not after the policies and trainings, but after the behavior they see and experience. Harassment, discrimination, and retalitiaon can and often do happen under these circumstances. Slaski (, taught this concept very powerfully in his recent lecture at the International Emotional Intelligence Conference in Toronto in 2009. Slaski discusses the importance of organizational modeling of behavior for employees and how if that is not present, policies and trainings are meaningless.

It’s very interesting that we’ve decided that harassment, discrimination, and/or retaliation based on certain categories is repehensible enough to warrant jury trials and multi-million dollar tort awards, but that the very same behavior not based on those categories is perfectly legal and those who suffer it have little to no recourse. The message this often sends to some corporate leaders is that “lawful harassment” is then none of the company’s business and there should be no policy governing or addressing it.

Smart companies will address all forms of harassment, including bullying, by clearly defining it, preventing it, prohibiting it, delivering consequences to staff consistently, and modeling behavioral norms in sync with these policies. I would like to recognize the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries for their excellent anti-bullying workplace policies:

Not-so-smart companies, will allow bullying to go on, because afterall, “it’s legal”. Not-so-smart companies will also allow “equal opportunity harassers” to continue their behavior. “Well, they harass and bully everyone. It’s not because of any protected category in EEO law; it’s just the way they are; it’s just their personality. These are personality conflicts”.

These are not personality conflicts. When corporate leaders do not perceive the cost of allowing any employee in any position and at any level to behave in this way, they are in serious denial about the enormously costly damage that is done by allowing this behavior to continue. They also become absolutely complicit in any results from allowing this behavior to continue including formal complaints, the loss of high-quality employees who resign or lose motivation to work well, emotional and psychological harm restulting from this allowed behavior, risks for workplace violence, low staff morale, disregard for employment policies if this behavior is not seen as problematic, disrespect for a leadership that allows this behavior to go on, subtle dislike of the workplace, active dislike of the workplace, zero loyalty to the workplace, workers’ compensation mental health stress claims, and other serious problems.

At this point in time, given all the research done on workplace bullying and how harmful it is, there is no excuse for a corporate leadership to not know the very serious risks of allowing such behavior. The information is there in the psychological literature, in the workers’ compensation statistics compiled by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the caselaw of those nations that have made workplace bullying unlawful, and in the countless cases of workplace violence in the US that have ended tragically. Given that we know what the risk factors for workplace violence are, it is stunning that we still look the other way and allow certain abusive behaviors in workplaces to continue. When we do this, we are clearly and loudly saying we are willing to risk workplace violence in our workplaces because we would rather not address those other unpleasant, inconvienent issues for whatever reasons.

Bullying in schools is finally getting the attention it deserves, though it took Columbine for that to happen. Columbine was not only an example of bullying at school; many people work in schools, and as we know, at least one teacher was killed during the Columbine tragedy. For that teacher, for his family and for everyone who knew him, Columbine was workplace violence caused by the results of unaddressed bullying.

The problem of having both lawful and unlawful harassment in the US is that this often confuses employees. Let’s revisit the situation of a veteran — or any other employee — with PTSD. He may not even know he has PTSD. He may have undiagnosed PTSD. Does that mean he doesn’t have a disability? Let’s say he is bullied and his emotional responses to events at work are ridiculed. Let’s say he is bullied because of his cognitive skills being affected. What are the risks in such a situation?

The risks are many. Because so many health issues and disabilities are invisible; HR, managers, and other employees cannot always know who has a disability and who doesn’t. And persons with certain disabilities are not required to tell the entire workplace, “by the way, I have this invisible disability, which is _________”.

The risks include huge lawsuits, workplace violence, low morale, conflict in the workplace that can spread from an individual level to a group level and become very entrenched, and a toxic workplace culture as result. Other employees who have deficiencies in Emotional Intelligence may observe one bully getting away with bullying and may then decide to also bully others. Workplaces with multiple bullies have signficant and serious problems as a result. This is undisputed.

The group dynamics implications of allowing bullying in workplaces are huge. Steven J. Stein, Phd, author of Make Your Workplace Great: The 7 Keys to an Emotionally Intelligent Organization and of The EQ Edge (with Howard Book, Phd), as well as David Caruso, Phd, Slaski, and other thought leaders have confirmed that emotions are contagious.

Additionally, we know this from Tavistock group dynamics studies, experiences, and research. Given that we know that emotions are contagious, we have a responsibility to both prevent destructive group dynamics processes in workplaces and to also be aware of and intervene if any of these emerge. When these do emerge, we have a responsibility to learn what the causes of this are and to address those causes in order to prevent more destructive group dynamics processes from emerging.

For example, if one employee is being scapegoated, this points to a serious problem in the workgroup that points to group projections that may have to do with any or all of these: accountability, anger, envy, primal fear, primal disgust, etc. What we know about groups is that even if this scapegoated employee becomes fed up and quits or is terminated, the group dynamic is still present in the workgroup and it will repeat itself with someone else. It’s just a matter of time before someone else is “it”. For some reason, this group has a pathological need to have a scapegoat. This is a serious issue that must be addressed if the workgroup is to function in a constructive, productive, and healthy manner. In workgroups that engage in this kind of group scapegoating process, there are often disparate standards for measuring job performance as well as distortions among group members about what is true – organizational myths often become organiational “fact”. Even employees who are not actively involved in scapegoating operations in any way are harmfully affected by such dynamics as they perceive very clearly that joining the operation is implicitly expected of them and they also perceive that they could be next.

When humans allow what Slaski calls “primal brain” to overtake our ability to think rationally and we respond to situations without using emotional intelligence skills but rather respond not unlike junior high shools kids and allow groupthink and other aspects of group dynamics to direct our thoughts, feelings, choices, statements, rationalizations, and actions, we can easily get sucked into a downward toxic spiral. This is particularly harmful for workplaces. People who would ordinarily not engage in gossip will start to do so. People who ordinarily would not engage in ridiculing others will start to do so. Opinions of the targets of bullying and harassment will easily spread laterally just as costly unresolved conflict will. Myths that have no basis in truth will become organizational “fact” because they’ve been stated enough that people believe them.

Bernadette Poole-Tracy, EdD has done masterful trainings on workplace conflict management. She teaches HR, ADR, executives and employees of every level about conflict, what it is, what it is not, what will resovle it soundly and what will not resovle it. Again, the knowledge is out there for organizations that want it.

The cost/benefit analysis is a no-brainer: spend approixmately $100 (or less) an employee on preventative high-quality workplace conflict management training and roll out a clear policy addressing how employees are mandated to handle conflict or do nothing and spend much more per employee on complaints, investigations, legal fees, turnover, responding to formal complaints made to external governmental agencies, and low morale.

So, when disrespectful and ridiculing behavior rear their ugly heads in response to someone with invisible disabilities, the ADA and ADAAA are still being violated. This is a liability for the company and for those employees engaging in this behavior. By allowing bullying to occur because it’s legal or allowed, we run the risk of allowing behavior that is in fact unlawful to happen far too easily.

This just proves how dangerous bullying can be. It’s just like saying we’ve got two kinds of apple pie; one is made with organic apples and one is made with non-organic apples. You cannot tell by looking at the pie, by tasting the pie, or by smelling or touching the pie. The only way to tell is to read the recipe for each one or talk to the bakers. But this information may not be available. Substantively and on the surface, these pies seem identical. Yet they aren’t.

It’s the same in this situation and in many situations involving invisible disabilities and the very fine line between bullying and unlawful harassment. Very often, the only way to know if the bullying reaches the level of unlawful harassment is if we have access to private health information that is protected by HIPAA. But we all do not have access to this.

So, what is the greater risk? Creating policies, trainings, and corporate behavioral norms around a zero tolerance policy for any kind of harassment – unlawful or not — OR — deciding that your company is not going to make a policy to address behavior that isn’t techincally unlawful?

When employees are bullied or unlawfully harassed, we can easily compare this to the experience that battered spouses have. All relationship abuse is violent and horrible, but over and over again studies have shown that those persons who experience verbal, psychological and emotional abuse are often far more harmed than those who experience physical abuse. The reason is that verbal, psychological and emotional abuse are invisible. There are no bruises, broken bones, or lacerations. There is no external cue to the rest of the world that this person has been harmed, and frequently, those kinds of abuses are taken less seriously by law enforcement and even by some counselors. It may be more difficult for those persons to obtain needed services, protection, or recourse for their very real injuries.

Those who have been physically abused have certainly endured terrible trauma; yet they get the care they need because their sustained injuries are so visible and demand treatment. Invisible traumas do not always get the care they need, and this prevents and prolongs healing.

Bullying is just like invisible relationship abuse since there is often no recourse for the bullied employee, yet the wounds are just as bad as if the bullying had been unlawful harassment. What the current laws say to employees is this:

You’ve been called names, slandered, gossiped about, excluded, treated unfairly, lied to, lied about, scapegoated, ganged up on, treated with hostility, treated in a disparate manner, or otherwise mistreated – but we only care if those things happened because of this short list of characteristics. If those things happened because of some reason not on this list, we don’t care. Too bad. Deal with it.

Given the realities of group dynamics among humans in most workplaces, this is a slippery slope. We know that groups of humans in most workplaces will almost always devolve into destructive competitiveness, destructive conflict, and destructive bias unless there are mechanisms in place to consciously and actively prevent this. Another way to say this is that many adults have never left the school yard. Again, we look to a combination of policies, trainings, ongoing education, and the consistent modeling of corporate cultural behavioral norms by those with the most organizational power as an effective solution. We know that if any of those is missing, the others will become meaningless and destructive behaviors will reign in that workplace culture.

What is also fascinating when looking at workplaces is: What makes it perfectly okay in this workplace culture for certain people to be treated in certain ways? What makes it acceptable among this group of people to target those who are on the receiving end of gossip, slander, bullying, hostility, disparate treatment, increased surveillance, harassment, discrimination, workplace violence, retaliation, exclusion, or other forms of mistreatment? When someone says, “I just don’t like him/her”, where does that come from? Most employees are smart enough to know that they can’t say their reason for disliking someone is a protected category, and a great deal of personal disgust can actually be attributed to unexamined personal bias whether it is conscious or not. This is another reason why mistreatment on its own is just as harmful as “unlawful” mistreatment. The harmful and abusive behavior is the same regardless of what drives it.

When we look at the hallmarks of cults and high-control groups, we recognize that there is control exercised by the leader(s) over Behavior, Information, Thoughts, and Emotions. (B.I.T.E.) ( Cults and high-control groups accomplish this control over individuals in a group in various ways. It is often done gradually. Workplaces want to have a certain amount of healthy control over employees and this is accomplished in healthy ways by being straightforward and transparent about the goals: We all agree to abide by these rules and we will all be expected to do so consistently. The End.

This only becomes confusing, obfuscated, and abusive when key words in that sentence are not meant or true. For example, maybe we “all” don’t abide by these rules; maybe only some of us do. Or, maybe we don’t really abide by them, but we say we do. Or, we say this but we don’t even try or expect this. Or, we say we have a zero tolerance for harassment, but we really allow it to go on. Or we allow it to go on under certain circumstances — maybe when our star salesperson is the worst bully but we consider him or her too valuable to address problems with. Penny wise and pound foolish.

When mixed messages like this are sent to employees, they realize they really are allowed to behave outside of the stated rules and norms and many WILL do so.

Some workplaces will begin to mirror cult-like behavior by trying to control behavior, intellect, thoughts, and emotions either inconsistently resulting in disparate treatment or in abusive ways. For example, expecting or demanding differing emotional behavior from men and women because of discriminatory ideas about what men or women are. Or, demanding that certain employees only express certain kinds of emotions but not others; this can also result in disparate treatment and/or be just unrealistic as well as abusive and unhealthy.

Prevention is the key. Prevention must consist of policies, trainings, ongoing education, and consistently modeled behavior by those who are most powerful in the organization. Heather Amberg Anderson says that Leaders are in the business of influencing behavior, and she is correct. When it’s too late for prevention, as it is in many workplaces, intervention is necessary. If only someone had noticed this and intervened at Yale. Someone might not be dead.

Emotional Intelligence training, diversity training, sound conflict resolution training, and Non-Violent Communication training can all work together to prevent bullying, harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and workplace violence.

Every time there is an incident of workplace violence in the news, we all collectively wonder what happened. We wonder how it could have been prevented. We don’t really need to wonder about prevention. We have the answers. And, paying for EI training, diversity training, EEO/ADA training, sound conflict resolution training, and NVC training is alot less expensive and alot more pleasant than paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to address formal complaints, respond to formal charges from the EEOC or state human rights agencies, or to settle a lawsuit. And, there is nothing that can measure the costs of incidences of workplace violence upon all employees.

OSHA requires that employees be given a workplace environmet free from harm. The FBI cites workplace bullying as a high-risk factor for workplace violence eight times in a report on workplace violence, which has become a serious epidemic in the US (

A white paper on SHRM characterizes workplace bullying as “the new sexual harassment”. Indeed, consider how sexual harassment was viewed before it became officially unlawful. There were many workplace leaders and lawyers who said, “Oh get over this; we don’t need yet another law to address this and we don’t need to legislate behavior”. But, we did need that law because of systemic sexual, psychological, and economic violence against women in the workplace.

As usual, the law has not yet caught up with clinical and organizational psychology. We know in the psychology field that the effects of bullying on someone are often extremely damaging and can often result in psychiatric disabilities whether those are temporary or permanent. We know that when two people are harassed in equally bad ways but one person’s harassment is based on a protected category and the other person’s harassment isn’t, that they are both going to suffer. Suffering does not cease because laws and policies do not recognize abusive and destructive behavior; in fact this refusal to recognize, identify, and sufficiently address the abusive and destructive behavior makes the suffering much worse.

Even those employees who have deficient EI skills will understand very clearly what they can and cannot do at work based on their corporate cultures. Permissive corporate cultures rely too heavily on assuming that employees understand what they can and cannot do without providing sufficient clear guidance, behavioral modeling, policies, and trainings.

We know that groupthink is a big part of this. In groups, humans will often do things they would never do individually. This can be harnessed for good, but left on its own in workplaces that are too permissive and do not adequately prevent abusive and destructive behaviors groupthink will often emerge around issues of competition, jealousy, exclusion, and unhealthy power and control over.

Any employee at any level who is deficient in EI skills and who is not given very clear behavioral guidelines, training, and modeling from their corporate culture can easily become a huge bully and/or unlawful harasser, causing extremely costly conflicts, unresolved conflicts, entrenched conflicts, conflicts that spread laterally throughout work groups and the entire organization, and conflicts that last years or even decades.

Even one conflict over something seemingly insignficant can easily draw in several people, can easily spread laterally, can easiliy last years and become very entrenched, and can easily harm morale, productivity, and the health of those involved.

And, when we look at Organizational Development and Organizational Psychology knowledge, we know that many conflicts arise out of misunderstandings, role confusion, ignorance of compliance responsibities, deficient EI skills, and actual bias. Emotional Intelligence research and knowledge teaches us that these can all cause the basic emotions of anger, fear, sadness, and disgust.

What is disturbing is when there are people in a workplace who derive personal and group joy from engaging in forms of bullying and harassment such as exclusion, gossiping, slandering, ridicule, scapegoating, etc. We know that when any person takes joy from someone else’s suffering, they are disconnected from their own pain. We also know that it is relatively easy for groups of people to derive joy from the suffering of others while denying they are in fact doing this. The holocaust is only one extreme example of this.

Anima Leadership Trainers based in Toronto, Canada ( use a combination of mindfulness practices, sound conflict resolution and communicaiton trainings, and Emotional Intelligence principles to provide experiential learning when they conduct their very effective diversity trainings.

It is very easy for a workgroup to unknowingly engage in any form of unlawful harassment without even knowing it and without any offending words to ever be communicated in any way. Subtle forms of this can include any kind of in-group/out-group dynamic based on any protected category. This is why impact is considered by investigators. It is entirely possible that a policy will say there is zero tolerance for retaliation, and yet mysteriously the impact is clearly that anyone who has ever made a formal complaint at the company has been placed under greater scrutiny than they were before or than other employees. Disparate treatment must be paid attention to even if there are no complaints. Disparate treament is another form of retaliation that can be subtle but extremely harmful and ultimately costly in many ways.

Most physical conditions are made worse by stress. Workplace stress is often more potent than other kinds of stress because it directly impacts people’s livelihoods and healthcare–their very survival. Workers’ Compensation costs often skyrocket in corporate cultures that have permissive cultures and do not adequately prevent abuses of power in the form of bullying, harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. All of these behaviors are very primitive kinds of abuses of power and control. These behaviors say, “I will mistreat you because I can get away with it”. This concept is the same in issues of domestic violence. Lundy Bancroft ( teaches that men who abuse women do so “because they can”.

There is really no difference in the workplace. Abuse is abuse. Violence is violence. Harassment is harassment. Bullying is bullying. We now recognize the harm that schoolyard bullying does to children and adolescents who have taken their lives or otherwise suffered psychological trauma; there is no difference in these effects on employees in workplaces.

The very good news is that there are easy solutions for all of this that are much less expensive that lawyers’ fees and allowing lowered productivity and morale to exist as these destructive behaviors are allowed to exist. What it comes down to for organizational leaders is: What are you going to choose to invest in? Are you going to demand certain behavioral standards from all of your staff and from yourselves? Or, are you not going to demand certain behavioral standards from all of your staff?

If leaders are not willing to demand consistent behavioral standards from their staff members, they need to ask themselves why and they need to clearly realize the costs and consequences of not doing so. Henry L. Thompson, Phd, the founder of High Performing Systems, has done excellent work on Catastrophic Leadership Failure (trademarked), and explores how deficient emotional intelligence skills will lead to bad decisions, which you can read about here:

The choice is clear: either choose prevention, education, training, clear policies, consistent policy application, and behavioral modeling by leaders OR risk lawsuits, increased workers’ compensation claims, formal charges of EEO violations, traumatized employees, costly unresolved conflict, entrenched untrue organizational myths, an injured corporate repuation, the loss of quality employees, and/or workplace violence.

The choice is yours. What will you choose for your company? Regardless of your position at your company, it is important to be aware of these issues and to raise them with your HR department and/or your boss.

One can only wonder what prompted the recent fatal case of workplace violence at Yale University. Since it has been classified as workplace violence, it will be interesting to follow any OSHA investigation into this as well as any legislative efforts around workplace violence prevention in response to this crime. There are currently at least 12 states in the US with legislative efforts to address workplace bullying. There are more and more states implementing workplace violence prevention laws.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw, The Boss Whisperer®, offers excellent trainings that address these important issues. Boss Whispering® is the art and practice of coaching abrasive bosses to rein in their agressive workplace behaviors. Much like horse whisperers who calm unmanageable horses, Boss Whisperers work to tame the fears that drive unmanageable managers to trample on coworkers’ emotions. Based on extensive research, this informative and enjoyable approach to developing interpersonal insight and changing behavior has proven effective with leaders at all levels. The process involves an initial two-day onsite assesment followed by regular in-person or telephonic coaching sessions. Positive results are usually evident by the third coaching session. Dr. Crenshaw’s important work can be found at

“Violence in the workplace is a serious safety and health issue. Its most extreme form, homicide, is the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), there were 564 workplace homicides in 2005 in the United States, out of a total of 5,702 fatal work injuries.” (OSHA)

The most important point is that these are not just academic pursuits; OD, EI, diversity, and leadership researchers are also practitioners who work in the real world with real people in real workplaces. OD, EI, diversity, and leadership work is not ivory tower work; it is about observing what happens in work groups, learning what can be done better and why, and then intervening to address dysfunction and improve group dynamics and workplace culture. It is motivated by exactly the motivation described by Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently on 9/15/09 when she spoke at a law school and said she became a lawyer to make others’ lives a little bit better. She urged the law students in her large audience to use their law degrees to make people’s lives a little bit better.

In order for any of us to do this, we must approach workplace issues with intellectual and emotional honesty, we must develop our EI, we must apply standards and policies consistently, and we must use all of the knowledge and research available to us in order to do the best we can for any workgroup. This is true whether we are HR/OD professionals, attorneys, organizational leaders, learning officers, consultants, mediators, investigators, board members, trainers, or others who have any influence over the issues facing modern workgroups.

What we can learn from the Yale murder is that it is our responsibility to observe, survey, solicit feedback, and intervene in workplace environments. If someone says someone else is controlling and territorial, that is something to address and intervene in before it escalates while we aren’t looking. If someone else is prone to explosive temper, it needs to be taken seriously. If there is ridicule, gossip, bullying, or other behavior that points to in-group/out-group or scapegoating operations, we need to intervene.

Intervention can take the form of coaching, training, transferring employees, mandating anger management, demanding changed behavior, mandating emotional intelligence development for all employees, implementing corporate cultural values, using experiential trainings around diversity, conflict resolution, and communication, and other actions.

What is most important for those of us who intervene is that we name situations clearly and transparently what they actually are. When we say that bullying is bullying, violence is violence, harassment is harassment, disparate treatment is disparate treatment, discrimination is discrimination, errors are errors, screaming is screaming, dishonesty is dishonesty, etc., we keep ourselves and others intellectually and emotionally honest. When we fail to do this or fail to do this consistently, we become part of the problem and can actually do much more harm than good.

When we look at other forms of violence and assaultive, unhealthy power and control-over others in various slices of modern human existence, we can see a history of behavior that can only be described as denial.

Rape victims have been blamed for dressing too provacatively, “asking for it”, “wanting it”, and otherwise held responsible for the violent and life-changing assaults they’ve endured.

Children and adolescents who have experienced incestual violations have long been ignored as the family was considered a soverign domain in which no authority had the right to intervene. Some children and adolescents have also been accused of having “asked for it” or have been blamed for having been “seductive”.

Before the Civil Rights Movement in the US, victims of lynchings were said to have been “uppity” or have “not known their place”.

Gay people who were unjustly victimized by the police in the Stonewall Riots were blamed and told they deserved the violence they received.

It is important to address conflicts in workplaces in a sound manner and to do so with as much training as possible. Certainly it can be useful to explore how each party has contributed to a conflict, however, when one party’s contribution is simply that they are a woman, are of color, are disabled, are gay, are trying to do their job, etc., it does need to be made clear that there is no sharing of blame or contribution to a conflict. There are times when conflicts in workplaces exist simply because one person is abusing another because of a personal need to abuse someone or because of needs for trainings around diversity issues or sound supervisory skills. Blaming when it is unwarranted is the kind of dangerous dynamic that can become contagious, can become a group dynamic, can result in scapegoating, and is an indication of a severe workplace problem that is most certainly a risk factor for workplace violence.

By all accounts, Annie Le had no trouble with her accused murderer and co-worker. However, clearly, he had a problem with her. I doubt that anyone would say Annie Le had any contribution to her death. Therefore, it is important for us to bear in mind that if she were alive and there were to be some intervention, we would want that intervention to be done soundly. It is ill-advised to demand that a victim of any form of workplace violence share blame for the situation when that is not true. Untrained persons in workplaces who attempt to resolve conflicts by making everyone share the blame equally do more harm than good. It is extremely important to bring in qualified, ethical mediators and to bring in qualified, ethical trainers to mandate sound conflict resolution skills for all workplaces.

Prevention is acheivable. And it is worth the money in that it will save lives and it will create healthier workplaces.

NYSDRA ( has one of the most brilliant workplace conflict mangagement trainings that exists. I recommend it as highly as possible. Bernadette Poole-Tracy, EdD is the presenter of that training and her combintation of ADR and OD knowledge and experience are like an innoculation against workplace violence, bullying, dysfunctional conflict resolution, and ignorance around the enormous costs of unresolved workplace conflict.

There is no longer any excuse for any workplace to be without these crucial trainings that save money, time, unnecessary angst, harmful stress, and lives.


What Does It Mean To “Fight Fairly”?

When we think of conflict, do we think of fighting and arguing? Some of us do. Sometimes we do. Do we think of yelling? Some of us do and sometimes we do. It really depends on who we are, how we handle conflict, and with whom we are having our conflict.

In sound conflict resolution methods, we approach the conflict as an opportunity for learning, growth, resolution, and perhaps even a more positive outcome. However, we know this works best when both or all parties are using sound conflict resolution methods. If both or all parties are NOT using sound conflict resolution methods, it is very easy for the one or ones who are trying to use them to become “de-skilled”.

This is also true of learning and developing EI and NVC (non-violent communication). If we are the only person in the situation or conflict using and trying to integrate our study into real life, it is very easy to become de-skilled. NVC groups often offer practice groups because practice is necessary to be ready to use these skills in real life.

They ARE skills, and they are also muscles that most of us have never or rarely used. It makes an awful lot of sense to practice with others who are also studying, learning, growing, and practicing so that we are all speaking the same language and can provide informed and helpful support to each other as we practice, make mistakes, make progress, and improve.

It is said that the more one practices NVC, the easier it gets. This is great news and not always true of the multi-faceted development of EI skills and learning and practicing of sound conflict resolution skills.

When we talk about fighting fairly, we are talking about the golden rule: doing unto others as we would want them to do unto us.

We are talking about being honest, not omitting information even if it makes our “adversary” look good or ourselves look less than great. It means saying things like, “well, to be fair, it is true….” That’s it, BEING FAIR.

It means being intellectually honest. It means not fudging facts or details. It means admitting when you’ve made a mistake or an incorrect assumption. It means getting out of any emotional grooves you may be stuck in (see my previous post about being stuck in emotional grooves), and it means telling the truth.

It means NOT playing television (or real-life) lawyer and spinning the facts in your favor. It means telling the real truth, the real whole truth, and the real nothing but the truth. That is fair fighting.

It also means expecting the very same from others that you would allow of yourself behaviorally. This is huge. This is about having behavioral standards. If you are allowed to have a bad day, then so are others. If you are allowed to become de-skilled but then catch yourself and do better, then you must allow others these same imperfections and treat them as learning moments with graciousness. If you are allowed to totally blow it with your communication skills for an extended period of time, then so are others.

If you are allowed to slip and yell but then calm yourself down, then you must also allow others this same imperfection. If you are allowed to slip and curse, then you must allow others this same imperfection and learning moment.

This is very much about trust, fairness, and mutuality.

You cannot very well go around saying that it is not acceptable for others to curse but it is acceptable for you to curse. You cannot go around and say it is not acceptable for others to yell, but it is okay for your to yell. You cannot go around and say it is not okay for others to get worked up and have a hard time calming down if you yourself do or have done this same thing.

If anything, you now share even more in common and can choose to use these moments as mutual learning opportunities so you can share greater understanding, empathy, shared-reality, and compassion.

There have been lists written about “fighting fairly” and sometimes these lists include well-intended suggestions such as:
No yelling
No raising any other issue
No name-calling
No walking away

And many of these can be very useful and very good suggestions in certain situations.

However, there are times when it is okay and even necessary to say “I really want to connect with you, and I really want to continue this conversation with you but right now I am afraid of what I might say; I need to cool down and take a break. I can talk to you about this in a couple of hours. How about 4pm?”

The very important message here is not just that it’s okay to do this, but that you are not completely walking away. You are STILL committed to connecting, having the discussion, and resolving the conflict. If you think this is a free pass to get out of the discussion entirely, you are mistaken; as that is the complete opposite of connecting and resolving and is a statement on the value you place on the relationship.

When someone tries to get out of the discussion entirely and does not want to continue it, they are no longer participating in the relationship. This is simply not acceptable within important personal relationships. For work relationships, it is also not acceptable; however, whoever has the greatest authority (unless there is a conflict resolution policy), will call the shots on this kind of issue in the workplace.

So, if you are having a conflict with someone, AND WE ALL WILL–SINCE CONFLICT IS INEVITABLE, it is best for us all to:

1. Learn as much as we can about Emotional Intelligence and our own personal development of our own EI.
2. Learn as much as we can about sound conflict resolution methods and find others who are learning these same methods and practice.
3. Learn as much as we can about NVC (non-violent communication) and find a practice group in which we can practice, grow, and learn.

Why do athletes practice? Why do we practice public-speaking? Why do we ask children to practice learning the ABC’s?

Because that is how we learn. With the ABC’s it is using an easy-to-remember song.

With athletes, it’s learning to respond to any number of situations using the skills, muscle, endurance, memory, and clear head needed to succeed.

With public-speaking, it’s about knowing one’s topic, being prepared for questions, and knowing our speech well enough that we’re not just reading it.

With conflict, we are using EMOTIONAL and INTELLECTUAL MUSCLES that many of us have never ever used. It’s alot like trying to wiggle your ears or roll your tongue when these are new things for you. You may be looking for and trying to physically feel a muscle you’ve never used before, and it may be hard to even find the muscle to begin with. In moments of frustration, you may ask yourself if you’re even capable of this and if you even have this muscle!

Once we find the muscle, once we know what it is to give and receive empathy, once we know what it is to approach someone else’s anger with curiosity and not a blast of anger or defensiveness back at them, we begin to develop incredibly powerful and useful muscles that become easier and easier to use each time we need them.

Once we find others with whom to practice, we’ve found a safe community of others to become better and better at this with.

Ideally, we’d have everyone on earth learning and practicing EI, NVC, and sound conflict resolution skills. Someday, I believe we will. Imagine a world in which all schools, houses of worship, workplaces, athletic teams, families and other groups regularly practice and then use in real-life conflicts all of the excellent skills in these disciplines!

What a world!

Fighting fairly means allowing others to be as imperfect as you allow yourself to be in your processing of, responses to, and expressions of feelings. It is also a commitment to addressing all feelings, needs, and issues. Many times a fight will include overlapping issues, and that is okay. Fair-fighting also means a commitment to always working to doing better and always connecting and resolving when the relationship matters.

Fair-fighting also means having as much awareness as possible about how we have tended to handle conflict in our past and making a commitment to never using methods of coercive control, power-over others, or any other behavior that is found on the Power and Control Wheel that is used by professionals who research and work with issues of relationship violence.

Relationship violence is not just physical; how we handle conflict can easily become violent and unhealthy if either partner responds with behaviors that meet the definition of coercive control, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse, or emotional blackmail. These behaviors are not limited to conflicts that occur between romantic heterosexual partners; these abusive behaviors can occur between homosexual partners, between family members, between friends, in the workplace, on sports teams, in houses of worship, or within any group or people that numbers two or more.

Please keep reading as I explore how issues of unhealthy and abusive issues of power and control can affect us in every area of our lives – UNLESS – we choose to consciously recognize them, name them, address them, disconnect from persons who behave in these ways, and do everything we ourselves can do to ensure that we conduct a fair self-examination and get whatever training, therapy, education, and practice we can to ensure that we do not engage in these behaviors and consciously choose to replace old dysfunctional behaviors with new healthier behaviors such as NVC, emotional intelligence skills, and sound conflict resolution skills.


Layers and Layers and Layers of Emotional Intelligence ~ It Seems to be Everywhere!

Having just returned from the third International Emotional Intelligence Conference (IEIC), I am inspired, amazed, and feeling very sanguine.

My flight was delayed more than seven times, my gate for my flight was changed three times, I was charged $15 by American Airlines just to check my normal-weight bag, my flight finally took off five hours after it was originally scheduled to, and my luggage was lost.

Unlike the very understandable response from Ben Stiller’s character in a “Meet the Parents” clip shown at the conference by David Caruso, Phd, I managed to remain calm, happy, and enormously appreciative of the truly inspiring scholars, researchers, practitioners, coaches, trainers, and consultants who presented at the IEIC.

There is enormous hope for the world, I think. I’m sure there will be moments when I don’t feel or think this way, but for now, I do.

William Blair, the Chief of the Toronto Police gave a keynote speech that brought tears to my eyes, a lump in my throat, a more palpable heartbeat, and goosebumps on my skin. Chief Blair has transformed his entire police force into a learning organization that encourages the development of emotional intelligence, embraces diversity, and is an open system that flexes, changes and learns as necessary.

Heather Anderson is doing compelling work with CEOs and other business leaders, convincing them of the critical importance of Emotional Intelligence and how their own EI directly impacts every aspect of their businesses.

Annahid Dashtgard and Shakil Choudhury from Anima Leadership have some important national partners in Canada; The Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the Crown Corporation with a mandate to fight racism, and the Canadian Policy Research Networks, a National think tank with a specialty in public policy development through deliberative dialogue processes. Shakil and Annahid’s presentation was powerful, inspiring, contemplative, and transformative. Their work is exceedingly important and valuable. And I now understand why Shakil said that as they do this work, he feels more hopeful about the world.

Mark Skalski, PhD from England, gave a brilliant and stimulating talk on how change is difficult for humans, why that is, and yet how vitally important it is in the workplace to make the business case for the development of EI, for the budgeting towards improving EI in serious way, and ultimately for the bottom line of business.

The IEIC is a conference that I wish happened regularly so I could take everyone I know both personally and professionally to experience at least parts of it.

Change is hard. People – WE – can be resistant. But we can also bring awareness to ourselves, we can ask what we want to be different and better, we can explore what is in our power to adjust, change and improve. We can make changes. We can define what our gold medal is.

Some trainers asked about winning. Do you want to win? We have to understand that “winning:” is different things to different people. What is winning to you?

We also had the opportunity to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. When an exhibit draws you into it so deeply that you imagine yourself as a part of history tens of thousands of years ago, you’re in a zone of contentment and learning, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

When you see how far we’ve come from the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls until now, you realize just how much change, growth, and development are possible. Skalski points out that with more options, we get more stress, which we need to be aware of and manage.

I’m typing this on a computer while I have a gorgeous view of Manhattan. I can see the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. Tomorrow night, I’ll be able to see the July 4th Macy’s fireworks over the Hudson River.

I have all the food and drink I need, and am taking a break from writing a book. My dreams are coming true. We have so much to be grateful for.

Where is evidence of emotional intelligence in your life? In yourself? In your family? in your workplace? Among your neighbors and friends? I am very grateful for those around me who work on self-development. And for those who don’t, I am grateful for my own self-development to help me deal with those challenging moments, situations, and people I encounter.

I still don’t have my luggage. I am optimistic (though grounded in reality-testing – Thank you Dick Thompson!) that I will get it back. And if I don’t, I will survive.

There are those moments, days, situations, and people who challenge us to bring awareness and regulation to our emotional responses. There always will be those. The practice is never-ending.

There will be those leaders who don’t want to hear Henry L Thompson’s brilliant message on “Catastrophic Leadership Failure” and who don’t want to understand how it is they wound up there. There will be those business leaders who are too frightened or ashamed to acknowledge that they’ve mishandled something important. They will keep it a secret. They will view all those around them who try to do things differently than them as their enemy.

Employees who are hard-working, innovative, creative, ethical, but who aren’t “yes-men” or “yes-women” will either grow bored and leave or they might even get fired for not being “yes-people”. Leaders who fail will exclude quality staff from meetings, decisions, and processes because they don’t want to share power, to share success or to share failure – they don’t want to share learning. They may continue to make quite bad decisions and not even be aware if they are violating the law or creating more and more serious problems for themselves because they only want to be surrounded with those who agree with them – or – because they will only accept disagreement and critical thinking from a select few. Catastrophic Leadership Failure can be a downward spiral. Those who don’t want to allow others into an in-group that for whatever reason needs an out-group wind up cutting themselves off from valuable resources in their own midst–on their own team. But leaders who fail do not see those who think critically of their decisions as team-members but only as enemies and threats. Perhaps someday they will be willing to examine why that is and make different and better choices. We can only hope.

There will be those business leaders who refuse to share organizational power and consider that the skills, knowledge, and abilities of someone else on their staff may actually be exactly what they need in order to handle something well. There will be those business leaders who keep glass ceilings and walls firmly in place as they remain unaware of or unable to acknowledge their overwhelming shame or disgust or anger or threat of allowing appropriate others truly INTO processes, C-Suites, decision-making meetings, and other critical operations. Becoming overwhelmed by primal brain, as Skalski puts it, is how this happens and is something EI development can explore, examine, and prevent.

Inclusion and Exclusion are hugely significant in every aspect of the operation of an organization and are also very related to emotional regulation. Most leaders will say they are not racist, sexist, ableist, ageist, or otherwise bigoted, however, a closer look at exclusion and inclusion can show otherwise. There is hope for those who are willing to regularly look honestly at their practices, at who they exclude, at who they include and to honestly ask and answer the question: WHY? Once there is awareness, a rational cost/benefit analysis can be done and better choices can be made that will not create liability exposure, fraud, civil rights violations, retaliation claims, unlawful privacy invasions, and a lack of integrity in chosen actions – all symptoms of leadership failure with great consequences financially, publicity-wise, and operationally.

It is about willingness. It is not about ability. It is about either being willing or refusing. EI is now proven to be a hard skill. It is far from a “soft skill” or a fun work-shoppy diversion from work. Development of EI IS the work in every moment, in every decision, in every interaction or non-interaction. It is the work in performance evaluation. Rater-bias is a huge problem in organizations whose leaders are in a downward spiral of failure and who are not bringing critical awareness their decisions with the knowledge that all decisions are driven by EMOTIONS. Emotions – an extremely important part of the workplace. There is now agreement that not only do emotions belong at work but they are THERE whether we like it or not. Every decision is made using emotion whether we realize this or not.

I am personally fascinated by workplace systems in which only certain people are allowed to express certain emotions or allowed to express them in certain ways. Why is this? Have you seen this? Where have you seen it and who was or wasnt’ allowed to express anger? What happened if someone who wasn’t allowed to express anger did so? Why do you think some organizational systems try to limit who can and cannot express anger?

Skalski talks about expressing anger as being related to POWER. This is why. It is an issue or organizational power. What happens when those who aren’t supposed to express anger or aren’t supposed to express it overtly do so? What is the response of those who try to make rules about who can and cannot have or express emotions in the workplace? How many of you have actually seen a performance evaluation that instructs a person to only express positive emotions?

How is employee A thought of and how is employee B thought of? And why? What is the criteria? What are the standards? Are there conflicts of interest? Are there ethical issues to be addressed? What are the emotions that are affecting these performance evaluations and why?

Steve Stein, Phd. announced that MHS will soon have a measurement instrument for testing INTEGRITY! How exciting is that? Should the Dow Jones require leadership Integrity test scores to be on the CNN and MSNBC crawls? Shall we require the public integrity test scores for our elected and public officials?

I am still feeling extremely joyful and with a cup that runneth over with inspiration, knowledge, teaching, hope, tools, research, and incredible passion for and commitment to the developing field of EI. Mark Skalski taught that joy is elusive and is only in existence when fear, anger, sadness and disgust are NOT present. I guess I’m in one of those rare moments!

Given how life is, it is only a matter of time before I am confronted with my own or someone else’s fear, anger, sadness, or disgust, and when that moment comes, I will dig deeply into my EI skills and find that self-awareness, practicing the skills, exercising these brain muscles, and hoping I do my best.

What a privilege to be part of a self-reflective community that values integrity, scholarship, solid research, and an impressive spirit of generosity of ideas and learning.

“Let us all do something today to make someone else’s life better “(-Bob Anderson)


Respecting Our Own Needs AND the Needs of Others

We all have needs. I think we can agree on that. In NVC – Non-Violent Communication – we learn how to be aware of what our needs are and we also learn to be aware of all the feelings we have as a result of our needs. In studying Emotional Intelligence, we also strive to have greater self-awareness and to express our feelings and needs and wants in ways that are fair for ourselves as well as for others. In learning sound conflict resolution methods, we also learn the difference between needs and wants.

One of the most wonderful aspects of NVC – Non-Violent Communication – is that we say that we want everyone to get their needs met. We want to get our needs met, but not at the expense of anyone else’s needs. And, we expect and hope for the same strategy from others, though we realistically know that there are people in the world who, for various reasons, only care about their own needs and even get those met at the expense of others’ needs.

NVC TOOLS For Men and Women:
Please click on the letters “NVC” (below) to learn more about how NVC can help us all:


View more presentations from UCSC.

NVC Feelings List:

NVC Needs List:

A very simple example of this is here:

Imagine there is a disaster and two people are trapped in an elevator. They’ve been told they will not be rescued for 3 days. One of them has a fresh meal he just got from a nearby deli as well as a bottle of water. The other person has no food or drink on him. What are some possible outcomes?

One outcome is that the person who has the water and food says he will share it with the other person.
Another outcome is that the person with the water and food says he doesn’t care about the other guy’s needs and he eats all the food and drinks all the water himself.
Another outcome is that the person without food negotiates or trades with the other person to get some of the food.
Another outcome is they fight each other for all of the food.
Another outcome is they agree to flip a coin to see who gets all of the food or which parts of the food.

There are probably many other possible outcomes to this situation.

The bottom line is that we all have needs – and there are many ways to get them met and many ways in which we respond to our own and others’ needs.

I had a great party to celebrate my non-fiction book contract with McGraw Hill. Many of my closest friends were there. It was a wonderful night. One of my closest friends, Vicki, was unable to attend because she had an emergency – a flood in her apartment. She kept saying how sorry she was that she was missing my book party because she knows how important this book is to me. She also sent a beautiful Edible Arrangements fruit basket that was also delicious. When we emailed each other the next day, she was still apologizing to me that she couldn’t go. I told her that I completely understood her need to be home and attend to her flood. I knew she was there in spirit, and it was okay.

I would not want anyone I care about or love to deny their own crucial need to meet my own less crucial need or want. We must respect each others’ needs.

A few years ago, my sister scheduled her wedding for a date during a time period when she knew I would still be recovering from a major surgery I was planning to have during that time. The surgery required a 2-month healing process and had been planned for a day as of yet to be determined within the first two weeks of January. It was planned and approved by my two bosses, with my surgeon, with my parents who agreed to care for me during the post-operative period, and also with a federal judge, who was presiding over a federal medicaid fraud trial in which I was the whistleblower and main witness; there would be a subpoena for me to be present at the entire trial. The judge had been changing the trial date every few months based on requests from both sides in the case for about two years at that point, so I had to let him know through my lawyers that there would be a two-month period during which I would be unable to attend a trial.

I would up changing my surgery date when my sister set her wedding date as I was Maid of Honor, and I didn’t want to miss her wedding. Because I changed my surgery date, that meant I was now free for my 40th birthday and could plan a trip with my then-boyfriend. We planned a trip to Mexico. I had to squeeze this trip into a very crowded schedule, in between required work trainings, legal obligations having to do with the federal lawsuit, many doctors’ appointments, and work events. My trip was set! I was excited about my upcoming surgery and hoped it would solve a chronic health problem, I was excited about my 40th birthday trip, and I was excited about my sister’s wedding.

Then, my mother scheduled my sister’s bridal shower for the day after my 40th birthday and told me that they would be using my birthday as the excuse to get her to the restaurant and surprise her. I said it was fine with me if they used that excuse to get here there, but that I would not be able to attend, as I would be in Mexico.

Instead of understanding my need to make the many obligations in my very busy life work and work well – my mother went ballistic. She could have said what her feelings were about the fact that I couldn’t go, realized that she had forgotten to check with me to see if i was available, and just accepted the situation. But that is not what she did.

She yelled at me and told me I was a bad sister and a bad Maid of Honor. She told me I was selfish and self-centered. She yelled at me and hung up on me. Before she hung up on me, I very consciously used my calmest voice and reminded her that she knew my life was very complicated and that she had not checked with me.

Each time I tried to reason with her, she had an even larger emotional response. She could only focus on her own needs and she refused to consider that I also had needs. She also was so overwhelmed by her own needs that she frankly didn’t care about my needs.

I would say, “Mom, you didn’t check with me; how can you be angry at me that I’m not available’. And her response would be “But I thought you’d be there”. Or, her response would be, “But I thought you were happy for your sister”. I was happy for my sister, but that didn’t mean I did not also have my own needs and a very complicated life.

What she was really saying was that she thought I would be there NO MATTER WHAT. Meaning, no matter what else I had scheduled in my own life AND NO MATTER WHAT MY NEEDS WERE.

She of course denied that she meant those things, but that is what she meant. Her actions and words proved it.

I would say, “Why are you angry with me? You can be angry at yourself for not remembering to check with me and you can be angry at the situation, but it is not reasonable for you to be angry at me”. She knew she was angry, but she was unable to examine her anger and understand who or what she was angry at. Many times it’s easier for someone to be angry with someone else than with themselves. That was certainly the case in this situation.

There is yet another layer to this. My mother would insist that she was not angry at all. She was so unaware of her feelings that she refused to acknowledge that she was even angry even though she yelled and screamed at me on the phone, told me I was selfish, slammed the phone down several times on me when I tried to discuss this with her, and then proceeded to not invite me to one family holiday or gathering for 3 years straight (as of today). She and my sisters and my father also stopped telling me family news such as when my sisters became pregnant, when they had babies, when my aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer, when my cousin was in a nearby off-broadway show, and various other things.

They also chose to ignore events in my life – such as when I became very ill and was hospitalized and home from work for six weeks, when I got my first book contract with a major publisher, when I had very difficult work stress, when I slipped at work and broke my elbow, when I met my new boyfriend, and my entire second whistleblower lawsuit which was a dramatic four weeks in court. This, apparently, is their idea of “punishment” for my inability to attend a bridal shower. They actually believe that I deserve to be cut out of the family for having had my own needs and for having missed a bridal shower.

I would say, “Please explain to me why you remain angry about this”. And at one point she said “It’s a generational thing”. Meaning, that people of her generation believed that I should be willing and able to cancel anything I already had planned or needed to do in my life so that I could attend a bridal shower that nobody checked my availability for.

I said, “Don’t I get any credit for having moved my major surgery so my recovery would not interfere with the wedding date? Isn’t that the important day? I’m going to miss a bridal shower. A bridal shower. This is not a tragedy. Terminal illness is a tragedy. People killed by drunk drivers are tragedies. World hunger and starvation are tragedies. Missing a bridal shower is not a tragedy”. My mother said, “I just thought you would be there”. She was unable to get past this thought and feeling. She was unable to allow new information into her mind. She was stuck like a needle in the scratch of a record. She was unable to feel anything else besides anger and disappointment (which she wrongly displaced onto me instead of placing on herself) because she was unable to allow new information into her mind. She was unable to feel anything else because she was unable to be concerned with my needs and was only able to be concerned with her needs.

The word “able” in the two sentences above is one I am not completely comfortable using. Should the word be “willing” instead? I will not say I know for sure. Was my mother unable or unwilling to think and feel anything else? What do you think?

She also wrote to one of my best friends who is a licensed clinical social worker and insisted to me that this friend told me what she wrote to her. However, this friend did not tell me what she wrote to her, except for one sentence. My friend told me that my mother wrote to her and said “I am a good mother”. This was very telling. Apparently, my mother believed that my inability to attend the bridal shower somehow reflected on her goodness as a mother – OR – that she believed that she was such a good mother that I somehow “owed” her this because she wanted it. It’s hard to know, because my mother is unwilling to discuss any of it.

Sometimes in families, the group dynamics are such that someone is scapegoated as a way for the family system to respond to and deal with stress. This is what happened here. My father and other sister both insisted to me that I had to change my vacation. They wanted to know if I had purchased my tickets yet. They wanted to know why I couldn’t just reschedule it. The answer was no; I had an impossibly full schedule – the only other time I could go was the date of the wedding itself. As it turned out, I slipped at work and broke my elbow two days before I was supposed to leave for my birthday trip. I wound up working from home for three weeks because it was very icy and slippery outside and I could not slip again.

My father angrily asked me “If you didn’t go on your trip, why couldn’t you go to the bridal shower?’ He wasn’t really asking me the question which his words asked; he was really saying “I’m still angry at you that you didn’t attend the bridal shower and I think you could have because you didn’t go to Mexico!” When I told him I was under doctor’s orders to not go out on the ice because I could not slip again, he very quietly said, “oh”.

Again, he and they had no regard for my needs. They only knew that they wanted me at the bridal shower and that was it. That was the only acceptable outcome for them. My father also angrily told me that I should tell the judge to “shove it”. Nice. I told him that people do not tell federal judges to “shove it” unless they want serious consequences. I explained to him that I had a legal obligation. My father insisted that my family obligation came first above anything else.

Again, this is a very interesting layer to this whole conflict and to the subject of Needs. My father – and my mother and two sisters – actually believed they had a right to determine for me what my priorities were, which needs were more important than others in my life, and – in essence – to impose their will upon me, regardless of my needs, wants, obligations, health, job, lawsuit, etc.

This is an extreme form of unhealthy control – and their response with cutting me out of the picture as my “consequences” and “punishment” is very telling. Do these people love me? They probably think they do. Do they understand what healthy love is? No. Do they love in a healthy manner? No. What they did is what Susan Forward describes in her books Emotional Blackmail and Toxic Parents..

When I told my father that his response was emotionally unhealthy, instead of wanting to learn what that meant or learn how to have healthier emotional responses to the situation or to learn how I was being hurt in the situation, he angrily said “Then, I’m emotionally unhealthy!” He dug his feet into the ground and would not budge.

When I mailed my mother and sister Virginia Satir’s wonderful book, Peoplemaking, they refused to read it. Virginia Satir’s books are amazing tools for healthy parenting and improving families. I also sent my two sisters and my parents a very good small book on Catholic Conflict Resolution, which they all refused to read. They are not “unable” to read; they were UNWILLING to read these. They were unwilling to read, they were unwilling to learn, and they were unwilling to resolve the conflict.

When someone does not want to resolve a conflict, there is a tragedy and there is not much you can do about it. This was extremely disturbing to me. I even wrote to the pastor of their catholic church in Hicksville, NY, Father Mannion at Holy Family Church, and implored him to speak to my family, since I believed they would listen to him. He never responded to my letters or my phone calls even though I mailed him a detailed description of the conflict and a copy of the catholic conflict resolution book. His bio on the archdiocese homepage says he has a graduate degree in social work and that his goal at Holy Family is to bring people together. As far as I’m concerned, he is a failure as a priest, as a professional and as someone who claims to have a social work degree. He had an opportunity to mediate a severe conflict and he chose to do absolutely nothing.

The scapegoating took the form of projecting all of the anxiety and tension about planning a large wedding in 4 months (which is going to be stressful) onto me. All of the frustration and anger was pointed at me. Because I could not attend a bridal shower that nobody asked me if I was available for when they knew my schedule was extremely demanding and complicated.

Again, I reminded them that I had a very complicated schedule, that I had already moved my surgery for the wedding date, that I had work obligations, that I had legal obligations, and that I had obligations to myself that related to my own health.

Instead of hearing this and understanding it, they became angrier. They echoed my mother’s angry judgments of me that I was selfish, self-centered, a bad sister, and a bad Maid of Honor. They also embellished these with pronouncements that I was jealous and that I was trying to sabotage my sister’s wedding. My sisters even went so far as to say that my surgery was never actually scheduled for a date, therefore I did not move it. It didn’t matter that I pointed out to them that no surgery is scheduled four months in advance but that it was as planned as it could be with everyone in my life who mattered and depended on me: my two bosses, my parents who agreed to care for me afterwards, my surgeon, my surgeon’s office, the hospital, my then-boyfriend, and the federal judge and my many lawyers. However, this did not matter to them because they were too angry to see straight, to allow information to affect their feelings, or to acknowledge that they were insisting that their own needs were the most important thing in this conflict and that my needs were not important at all. My mother referred to my surgery as “facial surgery” as though it was some needless cosmetic procedure when in fact it was a necessary surgery that was hoped to cure my severe sleep apnea, which is a very serious condition which I’ve had for decades and which worsens over time.

My mother said “this is an elective procedure”. I reminded her that I had very stressful work situation and needed to do this NOW for my health and because I was not sure how much longer I would have this job and this health insurance. She didn’t care so much about that. She and they kept looking for arguments that would somehow prove their position that I should be at this bridal shower no matter what – regardless of what my needs were. None of them heard my needs. None of them seemed interested in my needs at all. If you have ever been in this position, you know how very painful it is to realize that people who are your family, to whom you have given greatly, do not care one iota about your needs; you exist for them in this situation only to fulfill their needs and nothing else matters to them. It is extremely painful and disturbing.

I reminded them that I had been minding my own business when these bridal shower plans were made by people other than me. I had been simply living my life, planning a surgery around a busy work schedule a federal trial. None of this mattered to them. When I asked my mother why my recovery time had not been worked around, she said it was because the groom wanted to be married as soon as possible.

Again, this is another very odd prioritization. In a healthier family, a statement would have been made by my sister or my mother that Denise was recovering during this period and so the wedding should be after that. In a healthier family, there would be scapgegoating. In a healthier family, it would not be an issue at all that I could not attend a bridal shower. There would be no “consequences” or cutting off. But there was here.

Why? Because they were completely focused on their needs and had zero regard for my needs. Why does this happen? How can this possibly happen? How can people who are family members and claim they love each other refuse to acknowledge and respect another’s needs?

Clearly, there was a conflict and a disagreement about what was a need and what wasn’t. When do people – family or not – believe they are entitled to define for someone else what their needs are and how serious those needs are? When do people believe they are entitled to tell someone else their own needs are more important than that other person’s needs are?

What happens when, as in family situations, many people gang up on one person and all agree that the one person’s needs do not matter, are not real, or do are not as important as the needs of the group?

Why do people try to control each other in these ways? There is nothing healthy about this. This is most certainly about power and control. Though, it is also very much about gender issues in the current US. Specifically, it is about gender issues within a specific culture that still exists on Long Island, NY and probably in other parts of the US. It is actually very similar to the control and abuse of power one finds in destructive cults. Healthy families do not respond to a family member in this way, but destructive cults do.

If I had been a man and had the same issue, it probably would not have erupted into the intense conflict that it became. Men are not really expected to attend bridal showers. If I had been married and my husband and I had already planned a trip somewhere or my husband had surgery planned and I had to care for him, I’m guessing that this intense conflict would not have erupted. It would have been acceptable for me to have to need to care for my husband. But it was not acceptable for me to have to care for myself – for my own need to take a vacation before my vacation time would expire at work and during a time when I could fit it into a very complicated schedule.

If I had a child and could not attend because my child was sick or had some other obligation, that need would have been accepted and respected.

But, I am a single woman with no children and my own personal needs were not considered important enough to count for anything. I was expected to change my plans again, even though I had already changed them.

Another piece of this is cultural – a very antiquated and no longer healthy or useful mindset that the most important thing is the bride during the time preceding the wedding planning. Nothing else matters; the idea is that anything related to this upcoming wedding and this bride’s desires trumps anything else – including – apparently – major surgery and federal lawsuits.

We see this all over the world as the root cause of conflicts large and small. Whether the conflict is over food, water, healthcare, equal rights, voting rights, race, ethnicity, color, religion, land, land use rights, what is considered acceptable or unacceptable – etc. – we see cultural issues and issues of identity intensifying conflicts in several ways:

1. When people confuse their wants with their needs. Nobody was going to die if I didn’t attend the bridal shower. It was a want; not a need. But it was reacted to as though it was a need. It was reacted to as though a tragedy would occur if I didn’t attend the bridal shower, i.e. if I didn’t do what they wanted me to do and essentially insisted that I do. The result was that I was severely punished by this group, who happens to be my family. There was an intense scapegoating operation that included essentially very consciously cutting me off from communication and inclusion in family events. We see this same dynamic played out in cultural issues in the US and in other countries; divisions between the Catholics and Protestants with the punishment for non-compliance being violence and even death. We see Tibetan Monks arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and killed by the Chinese government for defying discriminatory rules against their right to practice their religion in certain parts of China. We see women beat by the Taliban if they try to meet their own needs for education, having careers, educating their daughters, or not covering themselves up from head to toe.

2. When people identify their core selves with what they consider to be their needs, even if their needs are NOT needs and are merely wants. All of the examples above can be used here as well. The Taliban do not NEED for women to have no rights; they just prefer it that way. No Taliban men will die if women suddenly begin going to school, having careers, not covering up from head to toe, or start voting. They may be uncomfortable and it may not be what they prefer, but it is not a need.
The very flawed thinking is “I am a man; she is a woman. This is intolerable to me. I have a right to now beat her”.

Similarly, if the catholics and protestants wind up marching in each other’s territory, nobody will die from that alone. What they die from is the violence that ensues because someone there becomes so enraged that someone else is doing something that he doesn’t like or approve of or prefer, that he feels he has the right to kill them. The very flawed thinking here is “I am Protestant. That catholic is marching in my street. This is intolerable to me, so I have a right to shoot him.”

Similarly, my family members thought “A good sister goes to her sister’s bridal shower no matter what. It doesn’t matter if she already moved her surgery. It doesn’t matter if he life is complicated with a federal lawsuit and a demanding job and health problems. She needs to do what we want her to do and if she doesn’t, we’re going to punish her by not speaking to her, not including her in anything, not sending her photos of the kids, and not inviting her to holidays. We have a right to deny her needs and to determine that our needs are more important than hers. Plus, she is outnumbered.”

These are all examples of very flawed thinking. Whenever we think our own needs are more important than someone else’s and we have a right to tell someone else what to do or not do or to somehow control someone’s choices, we need to examine whether or not we are being fair and reasonable. We need to stop and remind ourselves that we cannot know someone else’s needs and priorities. We can only guess.

Do you really think your needs are more important than someone else’s? Do you really understand the difference between needs and wants? Do you understand how your definition of yourself affects how intensely you respond to a conflict and determine whether something is a need or a want?

I encourage you to keep these questions fresh in your mind when conflicts with others inevitably emerge so that you do not make the very grave mistake of over-reacting due to confusing needs and wants or wrongly thinking that your needs have a right to be met at the expense of someone else’s.

This takes further introspection and awareness and touches all of our interpersonal interactions – at work, dating, in relationships, with family members, with groups of friends or activity groups, in worship or congregational situations, and with children.

We are capable of fine-tuning our internal self-awareness to measure our current feelings so we can accurately assess our current needs and determine where our needs fall on the urgency or importance scale as compared to the needs of those around us. We can calculate this in a split second as we become more and more skilled.

This is a skill to develop; we can become aware of this skill, learn it, practice it, catch ourselves, improve, stop ourselves before we complete errors, and generally decide to do better. As a result, all of our relationships will improve. Stretching ourselves in this way improves our interpersonal interactions and thus the quality of our relationships.

Stress and discomfort between people often emerges due to misunderstandings about perceived conflicts or actual conflicting needs. Either way, we can stop, check in with ourselves, see and assess our current feelings and needs and then proceed in the way that is best for all involved, whenever possible.

As for the wedding, I wound up not attending it at all. Since I broke my elbow and had to move my trip, that was the only time I could go within my extremely busy schedule. Before I had been treated this way by my family, I would have considered my attendance at my sister’s wedding to be more important than losing two weeks of vacation time because it was about to expire. However, since I had been treated this way by my family, I decided that I was not going to reward their behavior, I was not going to deny myself anything for people who had zero regard for my medical, legal, and professional needs, and I was not going to be physically near them until they somehow got healthier.

It has been painful, but sometimes we have to protect ourselves from very unhealthy family members by keeping a distance. Luckily, I have always had amazingly healthy and wonderful friends. It is possible to create your own family out of healthy people to whom you are not blood-related. And, often it is the best thing you can do for yourself.

During this time, I have had important support for coping with the pain of an unloving and very unhealthy family. I have also accomplished a great deal during this time; I have written two and a half books, got my first non-fiction book contract with a major publisher, outlined eight more books, invested money wisely, nearly completed mediation certification training, and did complete Emotional Intelligence Testing and Training.

I am open to having healthy relationships with my family, however they must be healthier than what they’ve been before, because I will not expose myself to the previous abusive treatment I’ve received from them. It is not worth it. I have a need to be valued and respected and to have my needs valued and respected. People who think they have a right to overrule my needs, control my choices, deliver extremely unhealthy “consequences” when I make choices they don’t want me to make, or who otherwise disregard my needs are not people I am emotionally, physically, or psychologically safe with, just as I – or anyone – would be unsafe in those same ways in a destructive cult or in an abusive relationship. All of these are examples of abuse of power and control.

If there was room here, I would post the power and control wheel and explain how all of my family’s behavior can be found on that wheel. It is extremely important to break free of groups, families, and “lovers” who wish to control you in any way. Control is abuse and can take many forms. There is very little difference between a family who does this, an abusive boyfriend or husband who hits you if you don’t do what he wants or the way he wants it, and a destructive cult group, which will try to control your Behavior, Intelligence, Thoughts, and Emotions (BITE). This is the hallmark of an abusive situation whether it’s with a group, a family, or in a relationship.

It can be control of money, control of time, control of food, control of friendships, control of your choices, control of your needs, or definition and control of your priorities, etc. Knowing your needs is an extremely important skill to develop.

Do not allow anyone or any group to control your needs or determine what your needs are. Surround yourself with people who understand, know, value, and support you. If someone loves you, they will not punish you for not attending a bridal shower; they will understand you have needs and they will want you to meet your needs and they will respect you enough to value the choices you need to make for yourself. Understanding needs and understanding the importance of respecting needs is to understand love.

Understanding and valuing our own needs helps us know and love ourselves, which is crucial. Understanding and valuing the needs of others is how we love others.

When we want everyone to get their needs met – but not at the expense of anyone’s needs, this is healthy love and healthy relating. In essence, this is heaven on earth.

Please feel free to share your own stories of family scapegoating, unloving families, destructive cults, and abusive relationships with me. Please feel free to share with me how learning about EQ or NVC has helped you make wiser choices in terms of who you will share yourself, your time, your body, your mind, you emotions, your life with.


How Small Changes Can Result in Big Positive Changes

When we are courageous enough to be willing to be aware of our feelings, something big and very positive happens. It’s like a switch gets turned on, and it can’t be so easily turned off. And that’s a good thing.

Sometimes people fear feelings either because they were raised in families that didn’t express feelings or because they are afraid that if they allow themselves to feel even a little bit of feelings that a tidal wave of feelings will rush forward and drown them in uncontrollable emotions, which they imagine will be bad.

The good news is that isn’t what usually happens. And the even better news is that when we allow ourselves to have awareness of our feelings, we are even MORE in control of ourselves, not less in control. Losing control of oneself is a legitimate and common fear when someone considers increasing their own awareness of their feelings and then others’ feelings. There are fears of the above-mentioned mostly-fictional tidal wave, fears of being unable to remain poised, fears of becoming “soft” or a “doormat” or losing the ability to be assertive and strong in the world when necessary.

These are all understandable fears. However, this is what we know from decades of solid research, practice and observation: The more aware of our feelings we are, the better control we have over our lives, the better our interpersonal communications are, the better our relationships with others at home and at work are, and the better use of our own time, money, and other resources we make.

Think about it: Your spouse does something that annoys you. Instead of harshly snapping at him or her, you say to yourself, “I feel really annoyed by that. I know s/he doesn’t mean to annoy me. This is really about us sharing this space together. I do love him/her. However, it’s also really important to me that I tell her/him that I need more space in this closet, not today, but by the end of this week, if possible. I’m going to find the right time to say this and I’m going to say it in a way that will be best for our relationship because my only intention and need here is to have more space in the closet. I do NOT intend to make him/her feel badly, start a fight, or upset him/her. I will say something today, after breakfast, in a direct and gentle way”.

Similarly, this can be used at work, with friends, with kids – with anyone. Snapping at others can be an ingrained habit. But we can change our habits. We can choose to. We can tell those close to us that we’ve decided to change a habit and we can let them know we’re working on it, we may slip back, but we want them to know we’re trying and we’d like their support. Then, we can tell them what “support” means to us. Does it mean just smiling lovingly at us when we backslide? Does it mean gently pointing out to us that we slid back into the habit we’re trying to break in case we didn’t notice? Does it mean just remaining silent and letting us work on it but with us just knowing this is important? Does it mean just having them tell us they appreciate that we’re working on this and maybe why they appreciate it?

The other side of this is that we can make requests of others. We can request that our partner become more aware of his or her feelings. We can request that they support us as we become more aware of ours. We can request a 5-minute check-in time once a day or once a week. We can choose how we’ll deal with our feelings and their feelings.

We can then realize that all of these feelings require room. We must make room for these feelings, which may at first sound like a chore of some kind. However, once we realize that making room for these feelings – yours and those of others – prevents arguments, conflicts, and misunderstandings, you realize that it’s not a chore at all. It’s prevention. It’s a deepening of the reality and experiences you share together in this thing called life which is made of smaller moments all linked together – eating breakfast, taking the recycling out, having time apart and together and with friends, keeping the house orderly, deciding how to spend money or leisure time, organizing a trip, negotiating use of the computer or the bathroom or the tv. This is life. When we can do all of these things with greater awareness of our feelings, we simply do all of these things in ways that are better for ourselves and better for our partners and families.

When we are smart enough to refine these skills and bring them into the workplace in appropriate ways, we are more likely and able to get our workplace needs met also – enough time to complete projects, the schedule we need, the support and collaboration from others we need, the trainings and tools we need to be successful, and anything else we may want or need. There is no guarantee we’ll get all we want and need, but knowing that we’ve identified our needs and wants and have skillfully asked for them to be met is a very good way to make peace with our needs whether they’ve been met or not.

This one tiny change – I commit to being aware of my feelings and to expressing them skillfully – at the right time and in the best way for everyone – will yield HUGE positive changes in our lives.

If you want to know more about further developing these skills, read about Emotional Intelligence, Non-Violent Communication, and Conflict Resolution. Some recommended books are:

When Anger Scares You, Getting to Yes, The EQ Edge, Non-Violent Communication, and Coach Yourself to Success

Until next time,

When We Can Get Stuck – Like a Needle in the Groove of a Skipping Record

Have you ever been in a conflict with someone and in the course of the discussion, there is new information presented either by you or the other person that ideally would steer the discussion in a new direction towards resolution – only somehow that doesn’t happen?

Let’s say the conflict stems from a misunderstanding – as most conflicts do – and let’s say that you are earnestly trying to let your friend know that you weren’t late to meet him for the movie because you don’t respect his time or value his company – but that you were at work and your boss required you to stay a bit later and it was an emergency situation and you didn’t have time to call your friend to say you’d be late.

Let’s say that you manage to get these words out in a nice, calm respectful tone, that you truly mean every word you say, and that you truly want the conflict to be resolved as you really do value your friend and wish for the conflict to be understood and resolved for you both.

However, let’s say what happens next is unfortunately something that happens many times with some people in conflicts. Let’s say that your friend is so angry and so upset and so hurt that he somehow doesn’t absorb what you’ve said. It may seem that he has heard you, but he remains angry. Why? Wouldn’t he say, “Oh, well that makes perfect sense. I understand.” And he may not say it, but he may think, “I’m so glad I was mistaken about my incorrect assumption that my friend doesn’t value me or my time.” You would think he would feel relief, right?

Many times, that is how these kinds of misunderstandings end. However, some people get stuck in a feeling – very much like a record-player needle (remember those?) stuck in the groove of a record album (remember those also?).

Your friend may recall something you said earlier in the conflict that perhaps was not you at your best. You may have said “Why can’t you just believe me when I tell you I wasn’t disrespecting you? You know I have a demanding job – everything isn’t about you ya know! You can be so self-centered!”.

Even though you may have gotten yourself to a better place and have found a way to communicate more skillfully in this conflict, your friend may still be hurting from those comments. And you may still be hurting from your friend’s assumptions that you don’t value or respect him. When different sides in a conflict are still hurting, it often takes a conscious choice to pull ourselves up and out of that record groove so we do not get stuck in it.

So, you may have managed to consciously pull yourself up and out of that groove, but what if your friend hasn’t and after you make your calm and peacemaking statement, providing new information to him, instead of saying he understands and everything is okay now, he says, “But you said I think everything is about me! You said I’m self-centered! What kind of friend are you? Why do I even bother?”

There is so much that can be said about this kind of moment in a conflict. Some of it is about all those involved in a conflict needing to try to do their best to resolve it. But what does trying our best really mean?

We know we all have different conflict resolution styles and skills. We can start by making a commitment today – whether we currently have conflicts with others or not – to consciously choose to improve our conflict resolution skills.

We can read helpful books such as those by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD or others such as Getting to Yes or When Anger Scares You.

We can let those close to us and whom we trust know that we are making a conscious effort to improve our conflict resolution skills and ask that they be patient with us and kind to us as we do our best to make better choices during moments of conflict.

We can remind ourselves that conflict is inevitable among humans and that it can be an opportunity for positive communication, growth, sharing, and connection and it does not need to be unpleasant. We can remind ourselves that skillful conflict resolution is a skill that most of us were not taught as children and so we have a lifetime of unskillful methods of responding to conflict to UNLEARN and replace with new learning.

To some of us, this may sound daunting, but to some of us, this sounds like an exciting adventure. Think of it as learning a new language or a new game. Think of it as needing more practice than just remembering how to ride a bicycle, and as something that can get you alot farther than a bicycle! Think of it like learning to play a new instrument or working out and developing muscles that you rarely or never use!

Remind yourself that learning a new skill at any age keeps our brains healthy and more vibrant and keeps all of us healthier in every way!
This is only one benefit of learning new and healthier conflict resolution skills.

Another thing to consider is how REACTIVE we are. Our reactivity is often determined by how we were taught to respond to conflict. Or, sometimes, it is our attempt to speak up for ourselves when were not able or allowed to as children. In any case, being reactive to conflict situations is something to notice, consciously choose to stop doing, and practice stepping back and silently observing our feelings, thoughts, needs, and OPTIONS regarding how we can respond to something.

Let’s revisit our imaginary conflict with our friend, from earlier: Our friend hasn’t really absorbed the new information we’ve given him about why we were late. He is focused – and stuck – on something we said earlier that wasn’t helpful and that wasn’t us at our best.

Let’s say we choose to apologize for that. Our friend can hear and accept our apology, assuming we’ve said it and genuinely meant it. OR, our friend can continue to be stuck in the groove of the record – continue to be stuck in that feeling. He can repeat this and bring it up over and over again – even when you think the conflict is resolved. He may bring it up days, weeks, or even months later.

This gives us valuable information:
1. Our friend is still hurt.
2. We may need to apologize again.
3. Our friend may have other past hurts connected to this hurt that he needs to talk about.
4. Our friend may or may not want to talk about these hurts and may or may not even be conscious of these hurts.
5. Our friend needs help getting unstuck and may not realize he is stuck.
6. Our friend may get stuck regularly and may or may not realize this about himself.
7. Our friend may or may not see this as a problem or something he can or should try to change.
8. Our friend may or may not want help and may or may not want to explore or change this.
9. We can use this an opportunity to examine ourselves and see if we ever do this.
10. We can make a conscious effort to stop doing this, if in fact, we do. That means getting ourselves whatever help and support we may need.
11. We can try to talk to our friend about this as compassionately as possible.
12. We can be mindful to not try to change our friend. He will make his own choices. We can only offer our own experience of him to him and only if he wants to hear it.

We can ask our friend to make an appointment with us to talk about something important and delicate that involves strong feelings. This will prepare our friend for the kind of conversation we hope to have and our friend can let us know when he is able to do this.

We can let our friend know how much we love, respect, value, and enjoy him. We can say we want things to be wonderful between us. We can say that we, ourselves, have been working on our own responses to strong feelings and conflicts, and that we’ve noticed that we ourselves sometimes get stuck in a strong feeling, like a needle in the groove of a record – even though there have been apologies and new information that theoretically would change our emotional response. We can say that we’ve learned this means there is still hurt, and we understand it’s hard to move past hurt – especially strong hurt. We can observe that our friend still seems hurt and upset and we are hoping that in this conversation, we can let our friend know that we did not intend to hurt him and we wish we hadn’t.

Hopefully this will help our friend climb out of the groove of the record and get unstuck.

Sometimes, the first conversation about this may not work. Sometimes, more conversations and more time is needed.

But, it is worth a try. And, hopefully, after the hurt is addressed and attended to and resolved, your friend can make a conscious choice to begin to observe when he gets stuck in a groove, when he is reactive, and when he is so hurt that he has trouble absorbing what others in a conflict are saying. And, hopefully, your friend will be able to observe and identify his feelings, his thoughts, his needs, and then ask for his needs to be met.

Hopefully he will be able to process his feelings and thoughts and really ask himself before he speaks if he is seeing clearly, if he is seeing accurately, if he has all the info needed to judge the situation, if he is giving the other person the benefit of the doubt (or if he can or if he feels they deserve it), and if he is thinking and judging the situation with fairness and integrity – rather than just having a kneejerk reaction of “OUCH! That hurt me!” and then lashing out verbally and climbing into a record groove to stay there for a long time.

There is more to be said about how sometimes it feels safer for some people to climb into a record groove and remain angry and stuck – than it does to climb out, step back, observe thoughts and feelings, question them, and try new ways of resolving conflict. More on that in another post.

In the meantime, I highly recommend Marshall Rosenberg’s very thin yet excellent book, Getting Past the Pain Between Us, published by puddledancer press. See for more information!Thanks,

EQ and Assertion -As Opposed to Aggression or Passivity

Have you ever thought about the relationship between Emotional Intelligence and Healthy Assertion? Those of us who try to live our lives as our best selves and make the best behavioral choices we can, have likely examined our ability to be assertive in healthy ways as opposed to being either aggressive or too passive.

Certainly there are unusual times when being passive or aggressive (but not both together!) is the best and most appropriate thing to do. If someone is about to step in front of a car, yes, be aggressive to save that person! If a violent person is holding a gun to your head and being passive will save your life, that is a good choice!

However, in daily situations, we are presented with opportunities to choose the right words and tone many times a day. How can we do this with so much emotion bubbling under the surface?

One thing to remember is that most of us were not taught healthy assertion as kids, and so it’s a learned skill. And, just like any other skill, it takes time and practice to learn it, gain experience with it, and master it.

So, be patient with yourself. It is normal to be slightly more aggressive or even passive when you are aiming for a certain amount of assertiveness. It’s sometimes hard to find that balanced place of assertiveness that isn’t either aggression or passivity. Keep trying. It’s all any of us an do.

Again, the best gift we can give ourselves is the self-awareness of knowing what feelings we are experiencing. When we know what these are, we can handle them. When we don’t know what those are, we are powerless.

What Can Happen When We Start Learning About and Using Emotional Intelligence?

Sometimes when we start using new ways of thinking, feeling, responding, and being, those around us have a reaction to that. We might expect these reactions to be completely pleasant, since we are working on improvements, but frequently, these reactions can be challenging.

Have you ever made a conscious decision to work on yourself to have more integrity or be more honest with yourself and others or handle conflicts in healthier ways only to discover that these new endeavors on your part get angry, resentful, or pained responses from those around you?

This presents a challenge. One person had her mother angrily say resentfully, “she likes to make things better”. Another person had someone at work say, “Are you trying to start a problem?” Another person had a former friend say “you shouldn’t use your knowledge of conflict resolution and emotional intelligence because everyone else in your family doesn’t know that stuff, and it’s not fair!”

What is a person who wishes to be the best they can be supposed to do in the face of such threatened resistance?

These present conflicts within conflicts and require thoughtful and delicate handling. What would you do? What kinds of things have you tried? How did they work out?

Let us know, and I’ll share my thoughts on what can work well in another future post!


Welcome to Denise Romano’s EQ Blog~

EQ is Emotional Intelligence.

We use it all the time in our lives. It isn’t just about the external way we communicate such as tone of voice, choice of words, facial expressions and how “polite” we are. It begins in our minds. Our feelings are directly influenced by our thoughts.

Many of us have had the experience of having our feelings about a situation change once we get new information. Consider that you read in the newspaper a story of a house that burned down. Your first emotional reaction is in response to this information, and you think “what a terrible thing”.

Then you may read that the police suspect the house has burned down because of arson. Then you may feel angry at whoever set the fire.

Then you may read that the person who the police suspect in the arson is a mentally disabled person with the IQ of a six-year old. You may then feel angry at whoever was responsible for watching the mentally disabled person who set the fire, and you no longer feel anger at the person who set the fire.

Then, you may read that the grandmother of the mentally disabled person who set the fire was watching him, but she had a stroke and died, so he was left alone, frightened, and confused. Then, you may not feel angry at all. You may just feel sad for all involved.

What can we learn from this?

We can learn that frequently our emotional reactions are in response to only some of the facts or are in response to incorrect assumptions. If we have a strong feeling, we want to make sure we have all the facts before we react or take any action. Otherwise, we risk not having all the facts and having a mistaken reaction that might be completely different than if we had all the facts.

We generally call “not having all the facts” a MISUNDERSTANDING. In fact, misunderstandings are the cause of many conflcits between friends, siblings, co-workers, spouses, and among other family members.

That is why it is so important to make sure we aren’t misunderstanding something before we react.

How many families do you know who have huge emotional reactions to things they think are true, but are actually misunderstandings? How many times have you had an intense emotional reaction to something only to find out later that you misunderstood something or didn’t have all the facts? What happened? Did your thoughts and feelings change once you got more information?

That is the value of being able to breathe through strong emotions, not react immediately, set aside the strong feelings, tell yourself you may not have a complete understanding of the situation, and be able to truly listen to the other person.

How many of us can do this? How many of us learned how to do this growing up? 1%? 2%? Not many of us learned this growing up.

The really great news is that we’ve learned over decades how to resolve conflicts in a healthy and fair manner. The challenging news is that most of us have learned the exact opposite of the skills needed to resolve a conflct in a fair and healthy manner.

So, we all need to unlearn what we’ve learned while growing up, going to school, and watching TV, and begin to learn the ways of conflict resolution that we know work.

This is not easy, as once we become angry or annoyed or overwhelmed with other strong emotions, we immediately and instinctively revert back to our default conflict style, which is the one we’ve grown up with. So, we have to practice the ways we know that work. We have to take a deep breath and remind ourselves to use the new ways we’ve learned and to not just let our fuse light up and explode like a firecracker or a neutron bomb.

When you get angry, do you stew silently, blow up, or do something else? We all have our own unique conflicts styles and anger responses. It is a good idea to become familiar with yours.

What does conflict resolution have to do with Emotional Intelligence? A great deal.

The more emotionally intelligent we are, the more we are able to bring self-awareness, assertiveness, flexibility, and empathy to the conflict resolution process.

Imagine a world in which all families practice and teach sound conflict resolution skills and work to develope emotional intelligence! Imagine a world in which schools do the same thing! Imagine a world in which temples, mosques, and churches also teach EQ and sound conflict resolution skills! Imagine how much healthier families, schools, friendships, love partnerships, marriages, and workplaces would be!

What can you do to improve your conflict resolution skills and to further develop your Emotional Intelligence skills?

Visit to see what Denise can offer you.