Category Archives: Family Conflict

Whole Thinking: Emotional Intelligence, Intellectual Honesty, Psychological Defenses, and Critical Reasoning Skills

All of these are interconnected and affect each other.

Let’s use these abbreviations for them as we continue: EI, IH, PD, and CR.

One cannot have sound critical reasoning skills and still be blinded by more than a few minor psychological defenses. One cannot be intellectually dishonest and have sound critical reasoning skills. One’s psychological defenses will affect one’s emotional intelligence, critical reasoning skills, and ability to be intellectually honest.

What examples of this do you see in your own personal or worklife?

Here are a few examples to think about:

The BP Oil Disaster has been called “not a disaster” by some politicians. We can see the lack of EI in this lack of empathy. We can see a lack of critical reasoning skills in this political dismissal of all reports on this disaster from environmental experts. We can also see a lack of intellectual honesty as hyperbole is used to compare this to Watergate, when those are not even comparable. What I believe drives this are psychological defenses in place that trump the skills of EI, IH, and CR.

A mother is furious that her daughter cannot attend her sister’s bridal shower. The mother forgot to tell her daughter when it would be. The daughter had plans and was unavailable. The mother became furious and displaced her anger at herself and at the situation onto her daughter. The mother said things like:

“I just thought you would be there”.
“but it’s your sister’s bridal shower”
“You don’t know how to be a maid of honor – why don’t you google that?!”
“You’re jealous and selfish”

So, what have we here? We have a mother whose psychological defenses and lack of EI are completely eclipsing any abilities she may have had to engage in intellectual honesty or critical reasoning skills.

If her latter skills (IH and CR) were stronger than her PD and lack of EI, she would simply be able to say, “Oh, I should have told you the date sooner. I know how busy you are. Oh well, I know you’ll send a gift. We’ll tell you all about it”.

Also, there is the fact that the way we respond to conflict (which is inevitable among humans and that is not necessarily a bad thing), is directly related to how much of our identity we ourselves impart into the conflict.

In the case of the mother, some of the other things she said were “I am a good mother” and “I’m not angry; you’re angry” and “this is not my conflict; this is your conflict”.

This woman (the mother)had the following beliefs about her identity and was not able to question them for herself:

1. Good people do not get angry
2. Good mothers do not make mistakes when planning bridal showers
3. Good people do not have conflicts
4. Conflict is bad
5. Anger is bad
6. I need to blame someone (because she didn’t know what else to do with her anger and it was too uncomfortable for her to take responsibility for her own mistake because she believes that a mother who makes such a scheduling error is a “bad” mother).
7. I cannot and will not acknowledge that I made an error
8. The bridal shower will be ruined if my daughter cannot attend
9. People will think bad things about me and us if one of my daughters is not at the bridal shower

What is wrong with all of these beliefs? They are untrue and limiting. What prevents someone from overriding deeply-entrenched psychological defenses and low EI by employing their IH and CR skills?

Several things:

Fear of learning, development and growth
Fear of acknowledging that the way we’ve been thinking or doing things before was not optimal
Fear of imperfection
Fear of acknowledging errors and feeling shame over those errors
Fear of acknowleding that what we were taught by our parents was not optimal
Shame in general
Disdain for intellect, learning, discovery, or psychology
Disdain for change
Disdain for and fear of the short-lived (but worthwhile) discomfort that can come from overcoming harmful psychological defenses

What else? Think about it.

When we are using Whole Thinking (TM pending), we are checking ourselves via our thoughts and feelings through the following filters:

The 16 subscales of Emotional Intelligence based on the Bar-On EQi, (I will examine these in a future post, but descriptions are elsewhere on this blog)
The Psychological Defenses (ditto),
Sound Understanding of Critical Reasoning Skills,
and we are checking with ourselves to see if we’re being Intellectually Honest.

Obviously doing this requires that we be familiar with all of the above. When we are, we become very practiced in doing this and what may sound like an onerous process can be done fairly quickly and become simply a very healthy habit that benefits oneself and others.

It’s as simple as “processing” something – only it is more than just taking the time to understand one’s thoughts and feelings; it is also holding our understandings of our thoughts and feelings (our whole perceptions) to standards around criteria that we know to be sound, healthy, and clear.

We already do this in our thinking regularly, but refining our thinking and stretching our thinking/feeling skills as well as better-integrating those (thinking and feeling, which influence each other), the more wholly we think.

Another tool that can help in the development of all of these learned skills is NVC (non-violent communication), which was created by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD. There is a free course to learn NVC at and there are also links and posts about NVC on this blog going back to Spring of 2009.



10 Reasons to Learn NVC (Non-Violent Communication)

10 Reasons to Learn NVC:

1. Stay more centered, open and effective in conflicts

2. Have more fun, joy and pleasure

3. Experience less painful and shorter conflicts

4. Increase congruence between your values and actions

5. Move from conflict to mutual strategies

6. Have more awareness of your needs, wants and desires

7. Have your needs expressed and understood

8. Translate judgments into dialogues & requests

9. Increase harmony and understanding among others

10. Have a more wonderful life

Comprehensive Introduction to NVC

The NVC courses and weekends take us from the very beginning concepts to a deeper understanding of the purpose, meaning and implications NVC has in our lives and in the world. Learning groups practice responding and communicating consciously by expressing and hearing, based on what we are observing, feeling, needing, and requesting.

Through the introduction of concepts in combination with experiential exercises, demonstrations, role plays and more, participants learn the foundations and concepts of NVC and have first hand experience practicing, and ultimately developing skills to bring back into their lives.

307 7th Avenue
Suite 1201
New York, NY 10001


NVC can be understood as a “language” that helps us translate what others are saying about their feelings and needs – even if they’re not using NVC. This does require effort, and so not all interactions are ones in which most people use NVC.

NVC helps anyone who learns it better understand their own feelings and needs, have better awareness of others’ feelings and needs, and both think and speak in a new language that fosters understanding, cooperation, and better interpersonal relations in general.

Ideally, all persons engaging in conflicts will know and practice NVC, however, this is not always possible as very few people have learned NVC thus far.

Even when only one person knows and practices NVC in a conflict, it often has a positive effect on the conflict and the parties involved.

NVC is particularly helpful in family and romantic relationships as well as in workplace professional relationships. NVC was developed by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD, and he has used it to help improve group relations among those who have previously been involved in high-conflict situations such as ethnic and racial conflicts that have resulted in wars and genocides.

I encourage as many people as possible to learn and practice NVC.


How NVC, EI, and Sound Conflict Resolution are Effective in All Human Relationships

I highly recommend NVC (Non-Violent Communication) study and practice for anyone wishing to improve their self-awareness, have their needs met, improve their relationships and communication skills, and be more empathic to self and others. Perhaps most importantly, NVC teaches that we aim to have our needs met, but never at the expense of anyone else’s needs and that this is possible.

NYCNVC, founded and led by Certified NVC Trainer, Thom Bond, is an excellent source for NVC training. Please visit to learn more.

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:

Here is an example of why I recommend NVC:

I observe that many of us are in relationships and workplaces in which our needs are not met.
I observe that this is a great source of pain and stress for so many of us.

NVC has helped me learn that I also have core needs for mutuality, joy, well-being, self-expression, purpose, respect, integrity, trust, nurturing, and affection.

When I don’t have my needs met, I experience unpleasant emotions which can be difficult.
NVC taught me that I can identify my feelings which will help me identify my needs.
NVC also taught me that once I identify my needs, there are 10,000 ways in which I can get those needs met.
This is true of all human beings

It’s so simple, yet so profound.

We can all identify our needs and then make conscious choices that will help us get our needs met!

This improves all of our lives, relationships, families, workplaces, teams, groups, and communities.

I make this request of myself: that I continually check in with myself regarding how I am feeling in response to those around me. That I value my feelings and that I check in with myself regarding what my feelings tell me about my needs and whether they are being met or not. That I also value the feelings and needs of others and check in with them when we share a connection that is healthy for us both.

I further request of myself that I value myself, my feelings, and my needs very much–so much that I request of myself that I make conscious choices about my life, actions, relationships, workplace activities, friendships, and use of my time and effort that will meet my needs, but not at the expense of someone else’s needs.

NVC taught me that everything anyone ever does or says is to meet a need of theirs. This can help us understand those who provoke anger, sadness, shock, or disgust from us.

When we practice NVC, we honor our feelings and needs as well as those of others, and we learn simple ways to communicate about these in constructive ways.

We also learn in NVC that when we make a request of someone or when someone makes a request of us, the answers of yes OR no, must be acceptable, otherwise it is not a request, but rather a demand. Ask yourself if you make requests or demands of those in your life. Ask yourself if those in your life make requests or demands of you.

We also learn that when the answer to a request is a NO, that a “NO” is really a “YES To Something Else”. We may need to ask more questions to learn what that is. Communication – Non-Violent Communication.

Practice is key, as most of us were raised and taught the opposite of this. NVC also teaches us that EMPATHY has enormous healing potential. We can shift in conflicts with others. We can approach conflict with the curiosity of an anthropologist or journalist in order to help us understand the other person and connect with him or her.

HOWEVER! We can only offer empathy when we ourselves are not in need of it. If we are hurting and need empathy, we are simply not capable of giving empathy to others. What a wonderful world it would be if everyone was fully aware of their feelings and needs and if everyone was trained in how to give empathy to heal others and themsevles. We can also give ourselves self-empathy.

When empathy is given, conflicts can be resolved. There can be understanding. There can be healing.

Practice is KEY. NYCNVC offers practice groups for those committed to integrating what they learn in NVC class into their lives, which is not so easy when everyone around you has not studied NVC!

NVC can be life-changing. Studying NVC for only one weekend or for nine weeks in a nightly course with a Certified NVC trainer can change your life and give you simple, important tools to enhance your life, your joy, your work, and your relationships with yourself and others!

I hope you will visit the website of Marshall Rosenberg, PhD, who created NVC. It is listed on my blogroll. Please visit your local NVC Certified Trainer for more information! There are only 76 Certified NVC trainers in the US.

NVC works perfectly with sound conflict resolution procedures and with the 15 subscales of the EQi an Emotional Intelligence instrument developed by Reuven Bar-On, Phd. I will expand on how these work well together in future posts.

Kindest regards,

Guest Post – More on Love and Fear from Dr. Srinivasan Pillay

This is part 2 to Dr. Srinivasan Pillay’s Part 1: On Love and Fear
Oringinally posted on the Huffington Post

by Srinivasan Pillay
Certified Master Coach, Psychiatrist, Brain Imaging Researcher and Speaker

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on the reasons that love may turn to fear. They are: (1) Attachment and ownership: that creates fear of loss; (2) Trust: that creates fear of disappointment; and (3) The flow state of being in love: that creates fear of loss of control. These are just some of the many reasons that love can turn to fear, but if we look at these more deeply, how can we think about them? And what can we do about them?

The subject of attachment has long been written about and if we merely go with “what we are”, we usually default to one of three types of attachment based on our brain chemistry and genetics, psychology and social experiences: secure, anxious or avoidant. My experience is that everybody has different degrees of all three, but as you can see, anxious and avoidant attachment styles are fear-based styles. To the extent that loss of ownership is one of the reasons we become afraid, we need to deeply examine the dynamics of ownership. For example, we tend to like things more after we own them than before we own them and the reward system of the brain activates more when this happens. This has been called the “endowment effect”. Thus, in ownership, some distortion of value is occurring that makes the fear of loss even greater. This is not the only problem with ownership-it violates a fundamental principle of life: that we subjectively attribute an immortality to a very mortal relationship. We act as though we are going to take things and people with us when we die. In the recommendations section below, we will examine how we can address this challenge.

In terms of trust, this stems in part from attachment, but also, because “trust’ creates good feelings and releases the same hormone (in men and women) that facilitates birth and breastfeeding. But trust is also based on an assumption: that we always know, and we don’t. Furthermore, it is also based on the assumption that there are no secrets between people who love each other-which is a noble but unrealistic expectation of any human psychology. Research shows that secrets, after all, perpetuate the same phenomenon as ownership. They make you love what you are keeping secret even more. Yet, they also perpetuate a sense of non-sharing in the person you are keeping the secret from and a drum-roll that something bad may happen. Trust and fear are always competing for the attention of the emotion processor in the brain-the amygdala. But what is the solution here? We will look at this a little later.

And then there is the “flow state”- that “in the zone” feeling that you feel when your life seems so much in place. At last-even the sun seems brighter and the worst day of your life seems okay because you are in the flow state of love. Until-of course-you suddenly start to get disoriented as though you are gliding on endless cross-country skies wondering when exactly you are going to fall. And surprise, surprise – you do. So you see there are some basic themes here that lead us into our recommendations.

Recommendations: 1. In all three bridges, love turns to fear when the attention switches from the other person to you: “I may lose”, “I may be disappointed”, ‘I may fall out of flow”. Is this the invitation to fear-the switch from concern about other to concern about self? Do we care more or less about ourselves when we care for others? Conventional wisdom has it that we must care for ourselves-and I agree with that. But outside of the morality of right and wrong, it simply feels better to care for others than ourselves. 2. In all three bridges, attention switches from what we have loved (and is still there) to what we hate. Why is it so much easier to remember the bad things than the good things? Evolutionary protective mechanism? Perhaps. But in any case, it would behoove us to train our brains to remember the good things more often. Yes, it will feel “false” but it is not more “false” than the bad things that you remember. It just takes effort. 3. In all three bridges, it would be helpful if we could simply not be victims of time. It is as though time breeds insecurity, in part, because it reveals the complexity of people we might have polarized when we were in love. But does time really reveal the complexity or distort the simple vulnerable beauty of those who disappoint us? At the core, are not most human brings simply unable to integrate what it is about being human in as consistent a way as we would like? And if we know this about ourselves-truly know this-why would we expect something different from others?

This is just an introduction to the thinking about when fear turns to love, but in essence, I am suggesting that we don’t have to “seek out” a spirituality of being human. It is already there-suffocating and begging beneath our fears to be released to ourselves. A connection to our dreamy, timeless selves, biologically, also connects us to the most intuitive parts of our brains. And if we look a little closer, we may see that we are not “in love’ or “afraid” but really, we are the bridges that facilitate this to and fro on a daily basis. What if we ceased to become these bridges and moved to a perspective that would allow us to “observe” or “experience” these emotions. What would that do?

Bio: Srinivasan Pillay

Dr. Srini Pillay is an internationally recognized executive coach, public speaker, psychiatrist, and brain imaging researcher who is focused on the fields of personal and organizational transformation. His aim is to help people and corporations achieve their dreams by drawing on his expertise that addresses the intersections of coaching, biology, psychology and spirituality.

As a “Certified Master Coach”, Srini is on the faculty of the “Behavioral Coaching Institute” where he teaches business executives internationally from a variety of different companies, including Fortune 500 companies, the art of coaching, with a special emphasis on using neuroscience to enhance communication, decision-making, and transformation.

As a Psychiatrist, Srini trained at Mclean Hospital, Harvard’s largest psychiatric training hospital. He graduated with the award for the most scholarly work during his residency. He was also one of the top three award winners nationally. After graduating, Srini became the “Director of the Mclean Hospital Outpatient Anxiety Disorders Program”, where he gained national and international recognition for his expertise in stress and anxiety. He is currently an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and has a clinical practice in Cambridge, MA.

As a Public Speaker, his knowledge of burnout, layoffs, anxiety and stress has been sought out by the media. He has made numerous television appearances and he has been quoted in the Boston Globe, Newsweek magazine and Men’s Health magazine on stress and anxiety. has featured him as an international expert on their new health internet site. He is a regular columnist for the living section of the Huffington Post.

Srini has also been a “brain-imaging researcher” for the past fifteen years. He has had numerous publications and has been nationally funded. He continues this work as a consultant to the University of Utah with his former mentors from Harvard.

Currently, Srini is starting a company called “NeuroBusiness group” that is focused on providing information, assessment tools and software, coaching and consultation services that draws on research grounded in psychology, coaching and the neurosciences to promote personal and organizational transformation. He is finishing a self-help book based on scientific research to assist people in overcoming fear. The book is scheduled for release late in 2009 or early 2010.

In addition to recently writing four original screenplays, Srini is currently completing the making of a documentary movie and composing the music for it. His passion is in integrating the science and art of life and bringing a realistic, hopeful and transformational message to the people he encounters. His deepest belief is in the power of love for transformation.

Contact information:

Guest Post from Dr. Srinivasan Pillay on Love and Fear

by Srinivasan Pillay,
Certified Master Coach, Psychiatrist, Brain Imaging Researcher and Speaker

This article was previously posted on the Huffington Post.

Love and fear are seemingly disparate emotional states, yet they seem to have a close relationship to each other. On the surface, love is a positive emotion that fosters a connection between people, whether they are parents, lovers, friends or family of any kind. Fear, on the other hand, does exactly the opposite. When we fear someone or something, we want to do anything other than connect with the feared person or object. In contrast, we want to stop the fear from inhabiting our bodies and we do whatever we can to avoid the feared person or situation. Yet, love often gives rise to fear, and fear has been known to give rise to love as well. Why can such apparently opposite emotions give birth to each other and what is the connection that keeps them alive in this “creative” relationship? In focusing on romantic love, I will discuss some of these bridges. In this, part I, I will focus on when love turns to fear.

When we are first in love, we feel the confidence of the attachment. We feel the great joy of being with someone and the good fortune of being able to see them again and again. But as this joy increases, so does the attachment. And for many people, this attachment creates a fear of loss. It is at this point that love comes to give rise to fear – when we lose the joy of the connection and want to hold onto it. This seems paradoxical, but is not. Rather than allowing the power of our whole beings to foster the connection, we invoke mainly conscious thought processes of “trying not to lose”. Thus attachment or desire for ownership is the first bridge from love to fear.

In the human brain, the amygdala registers emotion. When we are afraid, the amygdala activates. When we trust, the amygdala becomes “calmer”. When we are calm in love, this “trust” center in the brain is on cruise control, but when we start to deepen our connections, we sometimes create reasons to question the trust and the “trust” center becomes restless. How long will you actually be with this person? Will they always be in love with you? What if they leave once they get to know you more deeply? These questions disrupt the trust (and the amygdala) and the love that once was starts to turn into fear. The fear of being disappointed. Since love is a continuous negotiation of trust as the relationship gets deeper and deeper, any lessening of trust converts love into fear. Thus, trust (or the absence of it) is the second bridge that connects love to fear.

Love is also a flow state. It lightens one’s burden in life and creates a feeling of freedom where we seem to appreciate things more and feel grateful for what we have. However, this lightness can also be unbearable, as Milan Kundera has noted in his book: “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. It is a bit like skiing and not knowing how to stop. When we question this flow, we effectively hit the brakes, and the brakes in this case are fear. Love becomes fear when we question the flow state. Effectively, we become uncomfortable with not “knowing” and when we start to analyze how we are doing what we are doing and ask other questions (Where is this going? What will happen to us?), we pull ourselves out of the power of the unconscious into the sludge of the conscious brain. Thus, questioning the flow state is the third bridge that connects love to fear.

With these bridges in mind, how do we close the gates to fear and should we? Whether we should or not, the truth is that we are often driven to. Conventionally, we do so in the following ways: To deal with the “ownership” anxiety we may, in the more extreme cases, marry, for example. But this seems to do little for protecting us from fear. To deal with “trust” fears, we try to be as self-revealing as possible, but this also compromises one’s own personhood. And to deal with the flow state, we schedule times for flow: vacation, sex, or date-nights. But can you really schedule flow? When you give up the mystery, aren’t you moving away from the original source of that positive emotion? Next week, we will take a closer look at strategies we can use to deal with these challenges, but here is an outline of what we will address: (1) Can we get over ownership by “detaching” spiritually? (2) Why should commitment precede trust? (3) How can we understand flow states more deeply so that we are less intimidated about them?

Bio: Srinivasan Pillay

Dr. Srini Pillay is an internationally recognized executive coach, public speaker, psychiatrist, and brain imaging researcher who is focused on the fields of personal and organizational transformation. His aim is to help people and corporations achieve their dreams by drawing on his expertise that addresses the intersections of coaching, biology, psychology and spirituality.

As a “Certified Master Coach”, Srini is on the faculty of the “Behavioral Coaching Institute” where he teaches business executives internationally from a variety of different companies, including Fortune 500 companies, the art of coaching, with a special emphasis on using neuroscience to enhance communication, decision-making, and transformation.

As a Psychiatrist, Srini trained at Mclean Hospital, Harvard’s largest psychiatric training hospital. He graduated with the award for the most scholarly work during his residency. He was also one of the top three award winners nationally. After graduating, Srini became the “Director of the Mclean Hospital Outpatient Anxiety Disorders Program”, where he gained national and international recognition for his expertise in stress and anxiety. He is currently an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and has a clinical practice in Cambridge, MA.

As a Public Speaker, his knowledge of burnout, layoffs, anxiety and stress has been sought out by the media. He has made numerous television appearances and he has been quoted in the Boston Globe, Newsweek magazine and Men’s Health magazine on stress and anxiety. has featured him as an international expert on their new health internet site. He is a regular columnist for the living section of the Huffington Post.

Srini has also been a “brain-imaging researcher” for the past fifteen years. He has had numerous publications and has been nationally funded. He continues this work as a consultant to the University of Utah with his former mentors from Harvard.

Currently, Srini is starting a company called “NeuroBusiness group” that is focused on providing information, assessment tools and software, coaching and consultation services that draws on research grounded in psychology, coaching and the neurosciences to promote personal and organizational transformation. He is finishing a self-help book based on scientific research to assist people in overcoming fear. The book is scheduled for release late in 2009 or early 2010.

In addition to recently writing four original screenplays, Srini is currently completing the making of a documentary movie and composing the music for it. His passion is in integrating the science and art of life and bringing a realistic, hopeful and transformational message to the people he encounters. His deepest belief is in the power of love for transformation.

Contact information:

The Excellent Work of Jackson Katz

Jackson Katz is internationally recognized for his groundbreaking work in gender violence prevention education with men and boys, particularly in the sports culture and the military. An educator, author and filmmaker, Katz is co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program at Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. MVP is the most widely utilized sexual and domestic violence prevention program in professional and college athletics. It has been implemented by seven NFL teams, including the New England Patriots, as well as the Boston Red Sox and several other Major League Baseball clubs.

Katz also directs the first worldwide gender violence prevention program in the history of the United States Marine Corps. His award-winning educational video Tough Guise, his featured appearances in the films Wrestling With Manhood and Spin The Bottle, and his nationwide lectures have brought his insights into masculinity and gender violence to millions of college and high school students. He is also the author of an influential new book, entitled “The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help,” published by Sourcebooks in 2006. Since 1990, he has lectured at over 950 colleges, prep schools, high schools, middle schools, professional conferences and military installations in 44 states.

Katz holds academic degrees from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Harvard University, and is currently a doctoral student in cultural studies and education at UCLA. A native of Boston, he lives with his family in the Los Angeles area. For more information see

Below are some excellent excerpts from his website:

Ten Things Men Can Do To Prevent Gender Violence

1. Approach gender violence as a MEN’S issue involving men of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. View men not only as perpetrators or possible offenders, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers

2. If a brother, friend, classmate, or teammate is abusing his female partner — or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general — don’t look the other way. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to talk to him about it. Urge him to seek help. Or if you don’t know what to do, consult a friend, a parent, a professor, or a counselor. DON’T REMAIN SILENT.

3. Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. Don’t be defensive when something you do or say ends up hurting someone else. Try hard to understand how your own attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.

4. If you suspect that a woman close to you is being abused or has been sexually assaulted, gently ask if you can help.

5. If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help NOW.

6. Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence. Support the work of campus-based women’s centers.
Attend “Take Back the Night” rallies and other public events. Raise money for community-based rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters. If you belong to a team or fraternity, or another student group, organize a fundraiser.

7. Recognize and speak out against homophobia and gay-bashing. Discrimination and violence against lesbians and gays are wrong in and of themselves. This abuse also has direct links to sexism (eg. the sexual orientation of men who speak out against sexism is often questioned, a conscious or unconscious strategy intended to silence them. This is a key reason few men do so).

8. Attend programs, take courses, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence. Educate yourself and others about how larger social forces affect the conflicts between individual men and women.

9. Don’t fund sexism. Refuse to purchase any magazine, rent any video, subscribe to any Web site, or buy any music that portrays girls or women in a sexually degrading or abusive manner. Protest sexism in the media.

10. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer to work with gender violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men’s programs. Lead by example

Copyright 1999, Jackson Katz.
Reprint freely with credit.

Gender Violence Prevention Education & Training


The Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Model is a gender violence, bullying, and school violence prevention approach that encourages young men and women from all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds to take on leadership roles in their schools and communities. The training is focused on an innovative “bystander” model that empowers each student to take an active role in promoting a positive school climate. The heart of the training consists of role-plays intended to allow students to construct and practice viable options in response to incidents of harassment, abuse, or violence before, during, or after the fact. Students learn that there is not simply “one way” to confront violence, but that each individual can learn valuable skills to build their personal resolve and to act when faced with difficult or threatening life situations.

The MVP Model originated in 1993 with the creation of the Mentors in Violence Prevention Program at Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. With initial funding from the U.S. Department of Education, the multiracial MVP Program was designed to train male college and high school student-athletes and other student leaders to use their status to speak out against rape, battering, sexual harassment, gay-bashing, and all forms of sexist abuse and violence. A female component was added in the second year with the complementary principle of training female student-athletes and others to be leaders on these issues.

Why the initial focus on working with student-athletes? Ever since battered women’s programs and rape crisis centers established their first educational or “youth outreach” initiatives in the schools in the 1970’s, one of the key challenges they have faced is the apathy, defensiveness – and sometimes outright hostility – of male athletic directors, coaches, and student-athletes. While men and young men in the school-based athletic subculture have hardly been unique in their reluctance to embrace gender violence prevention education, they typically occupy a privileged position in school culture, and particularly in male peer culture. As such, male student-athletes – especially in popular team sports such as football, basketball, hockey, baseball, wrestling, and soccer – tend to have enormous clout when it comes to establishing or maintaining traditional masculine norms. Their support or lack of support for prevention efforts can make or break them.

For the past decade, the MVP Model has been utilized by the parent MVP Program at Northeastern University, as well as by dozens of other schools and school systems in Massachusetts, Iowa, Colorado, Washington, and elsewhere. It has been implemented in hundreds of educational settings with diverse school-based populations of boys and girls, men and women, working together and in single-sex formats. It is important to note that although it began in the sports culture, and retains some sports terminology, by the mid-1990’s MVP had moved from a near-exclusive focus on the athletic world to general populations of high school and college students, and other institutional settings.

Focus on Bystanders

MVP utilizes a creative “bystander” approach to gender violence and bullying prevention. It focuses on young men not as perpetrators or potential perpetrators, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers – and support abused ones. It focuses on young women not as victims or potential targets of harassment, rape and abuse, but as empowered bystanders who can support abused peers – and confront abusive ones. In this model, a “bystander” is defined as a family member, friend, classmate, teammate, coworker– anyone who is imbedded in a family, school, social, or professional relationship with someone who might in some way be abusive, or experiencing abuse.

The heart of the model is interactive discussion, in single-sex and mixed-gender classes and workshops, using real-life scenarios that speak to the experiences of young men and women in high school, college, and other areas of social life. The chief curricular innovation of MVP is a training tool called the Playbook, which consists of a series of realistic scenarios depicting abusive male (and sometimes female) behavior. The Playbook – with separate versions for boys/men and girls/women – transports participants into scenarios as witnesses to actual or potential abuse, then challenges them to consider a number of concrete options for intervention before, during, or after an incident.

Many people mistakenly believe that they have only two options in instances of actual or potential violence: intervene physically and possibly expose themselves to personal harm, or do nothing. As a result, they often choose to do nothing.

But intervening physically or doing nothing are not the only possible choices. The MVP Model seeks to provide bystanders with numerous options, most of which carry no risk of personal injury. With more options to choose from, people are more likely to respond and not be passive and silent – and hence complicit – in violence or abuse by others. Many young men and women, and people in US society in general, have been socialized to be passive bystanders in the face of sexist abuse and violence. This conditioning is reflected in the oft-heard statement that a situation “between a man and a woman” is “none of my business.”

One historical antecedent of this belief is the English common law doctrine that a man’s home is his castle, and that family matters are properly confined to the domestic sphere.

MVP sessions can only begin to explore this and some of the other deeply rooted cultural characteristics that contribute to bystander “apathy.” But one of the crucial aspects of MVP discussions – which are typically interactive and animated – is that focusing on specific cases of abuse can often lead to open, wide-ranging discussions about masculinity, femininity, gender relations, abuses of power and conformist behavior.

In single-sex sessions, racially diverse groups of young men and women discuss such questions as: why do some guys seek to control their girlfriends through force or intimidation? Why do some guys sexually assault girls? How do cultural definitions of manhood contribute to sexual and domestic violence and other sexist behaviors? How do cultural definitions of womanhood contribute to women’s victimization – or their resistance to same?

But the focus always goes back to the bystanders. For example, why do some young men make it clear that they won’t accept that sort of behavior from their peers, while others remain silent? How is the silence of peers understood by abusers? What are some of the informal policing mechanisms in male peer culture that keep young men from speaking out about these issues? In female culture? What message is conveyed to victims when the abuser’s friends don’t confront him? On a related note, why do some heterosexually identified men harass and beat up gay men? Does the accompanying silence on the part of some of their heterosexual peers – male and female – legitimize the abuse? Why or why not?

Unlike prevention efforts that target young men as perpetrators or potential perpetrators, MVP has the potential to expand dramatically the number of young men willing to confront the issue of men’s violence against women. This is a result of the MVP philosophy of working with men as empowered bystanders – not against them as potential perpetrators. This positive approach has the effect of reducing men’s defensiveness around the discussion of these issues, which provides the basis for the emergence of more proactive and preventive responses.

At the same time, the focus on girls and women as empowered bystanders – not victims, potential victims or survivors – can give them fresh new ideas about how to be supportive to their peers, as well as help inspire them to be leaders in their peer culture, as well as with younger girls.

Practical Applications

The MVP Model can be utilized in numerous educational settings. The MVP playbooks and trainer’s guides are customizable for diverse populations of students. Currently, materials are available for high school boys and girls. In some cases, these materials can be used with middle-school students as well. (MVP classes and workshops with middle school students are typically conducted by MVP mentors who are high school students).

Training of Trainers: High Schools

MVP trainers at Northeastern University or in Jackson Katz’s Long Beach, CA-based organization MVP Strategies conduct intensive, on-site two-day trainings of trainers with high school personnel, including teachers, coaches, counselors, administrators, public safety staff, parents, and others. The highly interactive trainings introduce the participants to the MVP philosophy and teaching/mentoring methods. Participants are given the opportunity to lead mock MVP playbook sessions with their fellow trainees.

Once the high school personnel receive the MVP Strategies training, they should be prepared to implement MVP with their students in the following ways:

They can recruit a cadre of sophomores and juniors – boys and girls – with existing or developing leadership ability. This group of prospective MVP “mentors” should be from a number of different peer groups and social cliques, representing a cross-section of the school population. Once the students have applied for participation in the program and received parental approval, the trained school personnel can hold a one or two-day retreat in the spring or summer to introduce MVP, teach the students how to use the materials, and lead small-group discussions based on the MVP playbook. This retreat can be followed by weekly or biweekly educational sessions for several months. The goal of these trainings is to prepare the mentors to facilitate interactive discussions in the fall with incoming 9th grade students, using the MVP playbook. (This is currently the most popular model being used in several high schools in Jefferson County, Colorado.)

PLEASE NOTE: MVP mentors are not expected to be subject-matter experts on gender violence or bullying prevention. Their training prepares them to facilitate discussions on these issues with other students. The most important role they play is to provide younger students – and their peers — with the space to talk about important day-to-day issues like how to be supportive friends, how to respond to incidents of actual or potential abuse or harassment, what to do about threats or rumors about school violence, and how to create a student-powered, positive and harassment-free school climate.

School personnel who have completed the MVP training of trainers can lead one-time or multiple MVP sessions with athletic teams, student government leaders, members of various student organizations, or other formal or informal groups. Student mentors can present/facilitate with these groups as well.


Implementation of the MVP Model has been formally evaluated in various institutional settings, including several high schools, college campuses and the United States Marine Corps. The high school/middle school version is currently being systematically evaluated in several schools, although there is a wealth of anecdotal and qualitative evidence for its effectiveness. The standard MVP evaluation is a pre and post-test that measures attitudes and behaviors that relate to the role of bystanders in creating and sustaining peer culture climates that discourage abusive behavior and reward pro-social, proactive responses to situations of harm or potential harm. For an example of an MVP evaluation, go to For more information about MVP evaluations, write to

Lessons Learned

One of the most important lessons learned in thirteen years of MVP is the need for early buy-in and follow-through on the part of key administrators and faculty. MVP trainers can come from outside of the school and provide interesting and rich learning experiences for students, in the course of a few days or over a period of weeks. But for the MVP Model to truly transform a school climate, educators need to be committed to training a new cadre of student mentors each year, and provide them with the ongoing support they need.

One way to achieve this buy-in is to invite key athletic personnel, administrators, and teachers to participate in an MVP training of trainers as early in the process as possible. This training can be framed positively as a leadership training. By defining the issues of gender violence and bullying prevention as leadership issues for educators as well as students, it is possible to garner the support of a broader spectrum of male – and female – allies and supporters than has been common to date.

By Jackson Katz

Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity:
While the social construction of femininity has been widely examined, the dominant role of masculinity has until recently remained largely invisible. Tough Guise is the first educational video geared toward college and high school students to systematically examine the relationship between pop-cultural imagery and the social construction of masculine identities in the U.S. at the dawn of the 21st century. In this innovative and wide-ranging analysis, Jackson Katz argues that widespread violence in American society, including the tragic school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, Jonesboro, Arkansas, and elsewhere, needs to be understood as part of an ongoing crisis in masculinity. This exciting new media literacy tool– utilizing racially diverse subject matter and examples– will enlighten and provoke students (both males and females) to evaluate their own participation in the culture of contemporary masculinity.

Tough Guise was named one of the Top Ten Young Adult Videos for 2000 by the American Library Association. It has become a staple in college communication, sociology, gender studies, psychology, criminology and linguistics courses, as well as numerous high school courses. It is regularly used by educators in the battered women’s and rape crisis movements, and counselors in the batterer intervention field. It has been seen by over 3 million people.
Produced by the Media Education Foundation, go to MEF to purchase.

Wrestling With Manhood: Boys, Bullying, and Battering
(with Sut Jhally): Wrestling with Manhood is the first educational program to pay attention to the enormous popularity of professional wrestling among male youth, addressing its relationship to real-life violence and probing the social values that sustain it as a powerful cultural force. Richly illustrating their analysis with numerous examples, Sut Jhally and Jackson Katz – the award-winning creators of the videos Dreamworlds and Tough Guise, respectively – offer a new way to think about the enduring problems of men’s violence against women and bullying in our schools. Drawing the connection between professional wrestling and the construction of contemporary masculinity, they show how so-called “entertainment” is related to homophobia, sexual assault and relationship violence. They further argue that to not engage with wrestling in a serious manner allows cynical promoters of violence and sexism an uncontested role in the process by which boys become “men.” Designed to engage the wrestling fan as well as the cultural analyst, Wrestling with Manhood will provoke spirited debate about some of our most serious social problems.
Produced by the Media Education Foundation, go to MEF to purchase.

Spin the Bottle: Sex, Lies, and Alcohol
(with Jean Kilbourne): In its portrayal in popular culture, alcohol offers a release from inhibitions and a path to happiness, wealth, maturity, creativity, athletic success, independence, and sexual freedom. In reality, the abuse of alcohol diminishes and destroys those very qualities and is linked to 1,400 deaths, 500,000 injuries, and 70,000 sexual assaults among students each year. Using numerous examples from Hollywood movies, MTV Spring Break, sitcoms, and advertising, as well as interviews with college students, award-winning media critics Jean Kilbourne (Killing Us Softly 3, Slim Hopes) and Jackson Katz (Tough Guise) discuss the way that alcohol abuse has been normalized in the lives of millions of young people. Spin the Bottle is the first educational program to step beyond an analysis of “binge drinking” to focus on techniques that alcohol marketers use to link the product to the fragile gender identities of young men and women. It also offers young people concrete strategies to counter the ubiquitous presence of alcohol propaganda and, in so doing, inspires them to take back control of their own lives from the influence of cynical manipulators.
Produced by the Media Education Foundation, go to MEF to purchase

Jackson Katz’ website materials reprinted here with permission from Jackson Katz.

Take a brief poll from Denise A. Romano at:

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.

Emotional Intelligence, NVC, Conflict Resolution and Anger ~ What Have We Learned?

We’ve learned many things and we can look at these and see which of these helps us most.

To Learn More about Emotional Intelligence and How it Can Help Men and Women:

In Emotional Intelligence, we see anger as an adaptive and intelligent emotion, letting us know that something is wrong or perhaps even threatening to us. We can choose to use anger as fuel in situations of injustice. We’ll want to do so as skillfully as possible, ofcourse. But what does that mean? Certainly yelling at a child to stop running into traffic is a skillful use of anger (and fear), so we can’t say that all yelling is bad. Some yelling is useful.

However, we’ll want to know how our choice of expression falls on those we aim it towards and we’ll want to know if their experience of our expression will meet our objectives or not. If only the moments during which we experience anger happened more slowly so we could strategize toward that goal! All we can do is practice, build our skills, learn, read, surround ourselves with others who are also practicing, and do our best with support.

In NVC, we look at anger as an emotional signal that a crucial need of ours is not being met. Often we realize that we are looking for this crucial need to be met, as the song goes, in all the wrong places. The very good news is that once we’ve identified our needs, we can set about having them met in all the right places.

NVC does give us formulaic communication tools to help us express our anger in more constructive ways–without the need for the fantasy time slow-down mentioned above. We can observe, state our feelings, state our needs, and then make a request. This will sound absolutely ridiculous in the example I’m about to provide, but it really can work. I do this to make a point, however.

I’m noticing that when you punch me in the face, I’m feeling really angry.
I’m feeling angry because I have a need to be treated with respect and have my well-being protected.
I’d really like it if you would punch that bag over there instead of my face.

There are a bunch of aspects of NVC that I am still learning about, but which I currently call the “crucial invisibles”.
Or, as my wonderful trainer, Thom Bond might make into both a joke and a new word: “the crucibles”.

So, the point, which the forumla doesn’t point us to is: are we looking to have our needs met in all the wrong places?

Are we in a relationship while we value mutuality, respect, kindness, care, consideration, yet we do not get these needs met?
Are we in a job while we value competence, effectiveness, ease, respect, and integrity, yet we do not get these needs met?
Are we living in a place while we value peace, nature, rest, ease, and community, yet we do not get these needs met?

I asked Thom Bond if there had been any studies done on people who study NVC and whether or not they wind up making massive changes in their lives after learning these simple yet profound truths about feelings and needs, and he said he knew of no studies but that yes, people do tend to make life changes.

Are you in a workplace or relationship where your experience is that you’re banging your head against a wall? Your needs are probably not being met and you are probably having alot of unpleasant feelings about that. Is it realistic for you to get your core needs met in this relationship or in this workplace? These are very important questions for all of us to ask ourselves.

When we combine EI and NVC, we come up with a number of tools to help us deal with our anger. Sound Conflict Resolution methods can also help. NVC and EI have contributions to make to conflict resolution as well.

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:

In EI we look at assertiveness, flexibility, self-awareness, and a number of other important factors. The expression of anger is allowable in EI and certainly encouraged so long as it is productive and not violent.

Let’s say the conflict is that one person is punching another in the face (as above) and they’ve met to resolve this conflict.

If the person who is unequivocally punching the other person is the face is unaware that s/he is doing this, s/he is lacking in sufficient self-awareness. If the person being punched in the face is unaware that s/he is being punched in the face, s/he is lacking sufficient self-awareness.

(Bear with me, the face-punching is just a symbol of anything you’d like to substitute).

If the person being punched in the face is aware of this but is low in assertiveness, this could go on forever without ever being addressed.
If the person doing the punching is lacking in flexibility, s/he may not change the behavior and this could go on forever.

In NVC terms, we understand requests as things that can be responded to with a yes or a no.

So, if I ask Joe to please punch that punching bag instead of my face, he might say yes or no.
If he says, yes and his actions then follow through, we have success.

If he says, no, however, NVC teaches us that a NO is really a yes to something else. Maybe Joe will say that he has a medical problem, a spasm and he cannot control where he punches and he is very sorry that his hand keeps hitting your face. He’d like to punch the bag instead, but he needs a doctor’s help. Problem sovled!

However, what if Joe’s response is “Yeah, i’ll punch that bag instead of your face, sure!”
But, then Joe continues to punch you in the face with no further discussion.

NVC teaches us that this is a NO disguised as a yes. It is still a NO. The person being punched in the face has a crucial invisible:

Getting punched in the face sounds pretty horrible, and it probably is causing alot of unpleasant feelings and creating alot of unmet needs. What will this person do? Will they believe the yes that was spoken or the NO that is actually happening?

Will this person choose to stay far away from Joe? We can only hope.

In Conflict Resolution, we do our best to look at conflict as inevitable among humans and so an opportunity to get more information about the many possible solutions that exist and how anyone in the conflict can probably contribute. We also see the value of anger in conflict resolution and we encourage the expression of it. Again, we see anger as an important signal that something is very wrong.

We do our best to use behaviors such as inquiry so we can better understand the other’s position.
We do our best to use a measured amount of advocacy so we clearly state what we need and want; keeping in mind that needs are very different from positions. We may think we MUST have the window closed, when really we are cold and putting on a sweater may solve the problem.

We also do our best to look at unifying responses and remember that we are on the same team–if, in fact, we are. In many conflicts, we are not on the same team, and it’s important to recognize this.

Frequently in conflicts, we are the recipients of information we don’t really want. We learn about ourselves, how we come off to others, how we’ve been misunderstood, how we may have contributed to that, and how we have harmed others and made mistakes, sometimes very grave mistakes.

We also may learn that the other with whom we have a conflict doesn’t really meet our needs, doesn’t really care as much about the conflict or about fairness as we had hoped or thought, and we may find ourselves with difficult decisions to make:

Should I leave this job?
Should I leave this relationship?
Should I distance myself from this painful family relationship for my own well-being?

When conflicts become particularly difficult, it’s a great idea to involve a skilled mediator. However, not everyone is open to that. So what do you do when that happens?

In NVC, we say that if someone doesn’t want to connect with you, why would you want to connect with them? Ofcourse, this very reasonable question can feel glib if we’re talking about an important relationship such as a parent, sibling, spouse, or child. Sometimes, just a cooling off period is needed–but it needs to be a real cooling off period and not complete avoidance of attempts to connect and resolve.

In Conflict Resolution, we call this impasse, and there are many helpful ideas about how to address impasse.

In EI, we look at how a number of skills can be developed to increase the likelihood of each person’s ability to resolve conflict by being aware of self and others.

Perhaps most importantly, NVC addresses that we all have a right to have our needs met and that we never want to meet our needs at the expense of someone else’s, which is a huge point in many conflicts.

We also know that anger frequently masks hurt. There is a great deal of anger in the world. What are we angry about? What are we hurt about? What needs of ours are not being met? What are you angry about? What are you hurt about? What needs of yours are not being met? Are you looking for your needs to be met in all the wrong places?


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.


NVC, EI, and Conflict Resolution – Looking at When They Can Work and When They Can’t

In NVC (non-violent communication), we learn that NVC is not for every situation. For example, you may not want to connect with someone. You may want to resolve something with them, and there are many ways to do that, but connection isn’t always necessary.

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:

For example, look at bullying or harassment in the workplace. If you learn that persons with whom you work take pleasure in ridiculing employees, perhaps even you, how do you address this? Smart Workplaces have policies prohibiting such conduct even if it is not “unlawful harassment”, however many corporations still do not have these rules in place.

Do you really want to connect with someone who finds ridiculing others enjoyable? Probably not. But you can still resolve these issues by complaining to an appropriate person who will share your understandable outrage, take the matter seriously, and has the authority to take swift and appropriate action. If there is no such person at your workplace, you may want to speak with a counselor or someone at your city or state Human Rights Commission just to ensure that your legal rights are not being violated and to protect yourself from the very real harm that results from any form of harassment.

We can use NVC in such situations, however, to generate self-empathy and to give empathy to those who have been harmed by such reprehensible conduct. We can use Emotional Intelligence to manage our emotions through the complaint process. We can use conflict resolution and NVC skills if we have to write a written or official complaint or participate in any kind of mediation.

Harassment in the workplace is a serious issue. What is extremely disturbing is when workplace leaders allow harassment to happen and to continue. Retaliation is also of great concern. When there is increased scrutiny on an employee’s job performance, when an employee’s job performance is held to higher or different standards than other similar employees, and when for example an employee is singled out for discipline and given much more harsh discipline for something like a few errors but someone else in the organization who has engaged in harassment, policy violations, and/or ethical violations is not disciplined or is not given any real consequences or is not documented in performance evaluations, then there is disparate treatment and it certainly appears to be retaliation.

Many employers sadly do not understand their compliance responsibilities. Shockingly, they don’t understand what retaliation is.

There definitely ought to be a licensing exam for anyone running a corporation, government entity, educational entity, or non-profit organization. It would save a lot of grief.

MHS is developing an instrument that measures integrity. This will be a fascinating new development.

Wouldn’t it be great if it really worked?

HR/OD professionals must be aware of their own personal legal liability exposure. When business leaders or corporate attorneys engage in, sanction, or knowingly look the other way when unlawful harassment, discrimination, and/or employment retaliation occur, many HR/OD professionals believe they should be fined; and in egregious cases, lose their positions and/or their legal licenses.

Many state Bar Associations do not have clear enough codes of conduct for lawyers in employment situations. Certainly, employees and former employees who are experiencing retaliation or who have experienced harassment, discrimination, and/or retaliation from attorneys in the workplace may consider the option of filing formal ethics violations complaints about any attorney who participated in unlawful harassment, discrimination and/or retaliation with their state bar association’s professional responsibility division.

Retaliation is a primitive abuse of power. It says: “I have more power than you do and I have the power to make you suffer because even though you just filed a complaint or brought a concern to my attention and you are well within your rights to do this; I don’t like you doing this and therefore I don’t like you. So, I’m going to get rid of you and cause you stress and grief because I can.”

Retaliation often takes the form of increased scrutiny, such as the use of video and/or audio recording equipment for surveillance of someone who has made a legitimate EEO complaint. Retaliation can also take the form of holding job performance and interpersonal behavior to standards that others are not held to around those things, which is “disparate treatment”. Retaliation should be documented by any employee experiencing it and witness statements should be obtained whenever possible. Complaint options are many for people experiencing retaliation: EEOC, State or City Human Rights Division or Commission, and other options if you work in government: Public Integrity Commission, Inspector General’s office, Attorney General’s office, etc.

This is a very disturbing problem because of what is at stake and because it’s so unnecessary. What is at stake? Everything!
The company’s corporate culture
The tension every employee will feel as they witness this happening
The stress on the employees being retaliated against which will become contagious
The rumor mills
The complaints that may be filed against the company
The trust other employees will now not have in the company’s non-retaliation policies
The trust other employees will now not have in any grievance or complaint procedure
The company’s reputation as employees talk to their friends and family
Wasted energy and time on retaliation efforts
Excellent employees either quitting or being wrongfully terminated
The possibility of negative media attention
The possibility of extremely expensive lawsuits against the company
If there is a group of harassed employees, there may also be the possibility of a class-action lawsuit against the company

For HR professionals, this is particularly alarming as it is our job to raise certain issues and concerns with our corporations. But, what is an HR-person to do when the people they are earnestly trying to warn and educate about not retaliating or looking the other way when unlawful harassment and discrimination occur don’t want to hear it?

CEO Consultant, Heather Anderson says, “if your fly was down or you had spinach in your teeth, wouldn’t you want to know?”

Believe it or not, there are some business leaders who do not want to know. OR, they are willing to hear it from others, but not their HR person.

This is just like someone you happen to dislike for whatever reason who calls you up or rings your doorbell and says, “Hey! Your house is on fire!” and you ignore the message because you do not like this person and you give no credence to anything they say. So, you stay home, watching tv, as your home burns down.

Then, a neighbor of yours whom you like tells you “Hey, Your house is burning down!” And you look around and say, “My house is burning down!” and you run out and call the fire department. Think of what could have been saved had you listened to the first person who told you this! Why would you refuse to hear a crucial message from one person but not from another?

Why is this? It is very destructive. It’s also an extremely fascinating workplace dynamic called “power-sharing”–or, in many cases–“Refusal to Share Power”. Refusal to Share Power indicates deficiencies in Emotional Intelligence. See below:

To Learn More about Emotional Intelligence and How it Can Help Men and Women:

When we combine EI skill development, NVC skill development, and sound conflict resolution skill development, we create healthy, functioning, safe, profitable, and legally compliant workplaces.

Look for my new book which will discuss many solutions for HR Professionals around this issue of “refusal to share power” and other HR/OD challenges!


Integrating EI, NVC, and Conflict Resolution Skills ~ Practice Is Important!

I knew that I would eventually be tested, as we all are regularly, by something that would test my emotional sanguinity and groundedness, but I had no idea it would be so soon.

I had a very unpleasant conflict with someone very dear to me, and we both lost it. We both yelled. All of my good intentions to use all the amazing EI skills I’ve been working on developing and all the critical NVC skills I’ve been learning for the past nine weeks just evaporated. We know this is called becoming “de-skilled” and we know it can happen to almost any of us.

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:

I’m thrilled to attend a 4-day NVC Empathy Intensive with Thom Bond from NYC NVC in the Hamptons this coming week. I cannot wait and am almost completely packed!

Thom’s email announces: “Camp, Swim, Eat, Hike, Snorkel, Row, Laugh, Cry – Amazing New July Empathy Intensive Info –

Living from Within – 4-Day Empathy Intensive
July 16th – 19th on Long Island
This intensive offers an opportunity to understand and practice empathy and self-empathy at a new level and identify practices you can use for the rest of your life.

This intensive is open to anyone who seeks to understand and practice NVC empathy. No one will be turned away for lack of experience. We are offering tracks for folks with levels of experience from beginner to intermediate to advanced.

Thom adds this:
“Most of the people I’ve worked with over the years, myself included, get to a point (or have gotten to a point) where we know what NVC is, yet struggle to “integrate” it at the depth we know is possible.

I have found, time after time, that it is our ability to internally empathize and selfj-empathize that is a key to being compassionate with ourselves in our significant relationships and in our professional lives. Through empathy and self-empathy we can understand what we want and how to get it in a way that is in harmony with our values. We can hold a more compassionate view of the world more often. We can practice NVC.

These intensives are intended to support and inspire participants in breaking through and having a deeper and more sustainable integration of empathy and self-empathy than ever before. In a supportive, community environment, we experience challenge, guidance, nurturing, and support in all the pieces that go into empathy, self-empathy and seeing the world empathically.

Throughout our time together, we will deepen our capacity for being present, being aware of our focus, and our own capabilities and willingness, moment by moment.

Going Deeper:
Feelings and Needs are the heart of empathy.
So, our relationship to them directly influences the quality and depth of our empathy.
At these intensives, through practice and exercise, we will broaden and enrich our understanding and experience of feelings and needs (our own and others’) and thereby deepen our practice of empathy and self-empathy.

Throughout the intensive, we will build on that work with well-defined empathy and self-empathy processes to get immediate and fruitful practice

As an NVC trainer, I (Thom Bond) am committed to supporting myself and everyone in sharing a level of connection that transcends conflict and enriches our lives, our relationships, and our world.

It’s a great time in history when we can so clearly identify, learn and practice the skills of making peace within ourselves and in the world. I am profoundly grateful to be a part of that. These intensives offer a new way to contribute to a more wonderful life and world for generations to come. Plus they are alot of fun!” (Thom Bond).

I can’t wait! I look forward to learning more and to having experiential practice in a supportive community learning environment.

I already know that I want to do my best to learn as much as I can about NVC and become a certified trainer.

EI theory is wonderful. Reading about EI and NVC is wonderful. Conferences, books, and classes are wonderful.

To have the opportunity to practice with others is amazing.

We all need practice. We need to unlearn so much of how we’ve been taught to understand our feelings and needs. We need to forgive ourselves and others when we don’t do our best. We need to promise to do better. We need to take action to ensure we’ll do better. My action is to attend this practice intensive.

What will your action be?


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,