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Social and Emotional Learning in Post-Conflict Situations

Photo of Chantha by Thibault van der Stichel

For the past five years, I’ve volunteered at the Cambodian-based NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant. Since its foundation in 1996, Pour un Sourire d’Enfant has turned Cambodian children away from defeatism and a vicious cycle of drug addiction, prostitution, gambling, and violence. These children grew up amid severe hardship in which many of them were abused, prostituted, or orphaned in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide, which occurred during the 1970s. Almost 2 million people were murdered. Ethic minorities were targeted as well as students, doctors, lawyers, and business leaders. There was widespread abduction and indoctrination of children, and many were persuaded or forced to commit atrocities. Now, those kids have grown up, and their kids have inherited the extreme violence their parents suffered. This has created a desperate cycle of violence and poverty, and has made scavenging, prostitution, and drugs the main options that these children have to survive.

The Lasting Impact of the Cambodian Genocide

After the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed, the psychological repercussions were enormous, yet mental health care was ignored for many years. With their harrowing past, a significant proportion of the Cambodian population were inevitably afflicted with a variety of mental illnesses, most commonly depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cambodian parents nowadays drink to forget, consume drugs to alleviate the pain, and use violence as a way to educate their children, communicate their needs, and express their emotions. Poverty, desperation, and a lack of empathy make Cambodian parents force their children to work on the streets, search for plastic at dumpsites, or prostitute themselves. These parents abuse their children and often sell them to child traffickers.

I observed that Pour un Sourire d’Enfant does a fantastic job of providing medical care, nutrition security, and education to more than 6,000 Cambodian children. Yet as the students get older, many of them consume drugs and alcohol, gamble, have suicidal thoughts, drop out of school, and struggle to understand and manage their emotions. I didn’t understand why this happened until I read Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Post-Conflict Situations

Thanks to Emotional Intelligence, I learned that family life is our first school for emotional learning and that everything a child sees, feels, and experiences will shape their sense of self. During the first three or four years of life a toddler’s brain grows to about two thirds its full size and evolves in complexity at a higher rate than it ever will again.

The areas of the brain affected by trauma are usually those associated with the regulation of emotion, as well as those that control learning and memory. Studies from the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, L.L.C. show that other brain regions related to the control of impulses and reasoning, problem-solving, and judgment are also impaired and, therefore, have less influence on an individual’s behavior. Victims of conflicts often have difficulty with bonding and attachment and thus developing stable and trusting relationships. Young children who experience trauma also show cognitive and language delays that place them at risk for early learning difficulties and later academic challenges. Traumatized children often suffer significant mood swings, anger, irritability, and profound depression. 

I soon understood that Cambodia was the perfect example of what could happen to an entire generation if mental health wasn’t taken into account after a country experienced war or conflict. Victims of extreme violence, human trafficking, and abuse, according to Dr. Goleman, “have had an early and steady diet of trauma, but seeing how the brain itself is shaped by brutality—or by love—suggests that childhood represents a unique window of opportunity for emotional lessons. The massive sculpting and pruning of neural circuits in youth is the reason why early emotional hardships and trauma have such enduring and pervasive effects in adulthood.” As a result, the sooner schools embed emotional learning, the greater likelihood that children can develop the skills to manage complex emotions.  

The post-conflict cycle of violence and poverty that occurs within families, communities, and entire countries can be lessened through Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) education and reintegration programs. Research shows that SEL programs reduce fighting and bullying and increase academic achievement. Implementing SEL in post-conflict countries can accelerate their social and economic recovery and provide the foundation for a brighter future.

Beyond having the basic needs of food, safety, and shelter met, all people benefit from gaining a basic understanding of their emotions and how to manage them. Emotional Intelligence is key to leading a happier and more fulfilling life. It enables us to understand ourselves and forge meaningful relationships with others. Developing and cultivating EI in education, therefore, creates a foundation for success and helps kids develop emotional balance, self-esteem, and the ability to adapt to life’s challenges.

SEL for the Future of Post-Conflict Countries

There are several ways children can be affected during and after a conflict, such as becoming child soldiers, refugees, or victims of child trafficking. According to the Child Soldiers International’s World Index, in 2017, 203 cases of “suicide bombers” in Nigeria and Cameroon (by Boko Haram) were verified, “more than 3,000 cases of recruitment by armed groups in DR Congo were reported” (46 States militaries around the world continue to recruit children), “at least 19,000 under-18s are believed to be participating in the conflict in South Sudan,” and 240 million children live in countries affected by conflict.

We need to teach children not only how to do math and read English, but also how to understand and navigate their emotions, how to focus and adapt, and how to build positive connections with others. SEL should be incorporated into post-conflict child protection, education, and reintegration programs to help kids who suffer from child trafficking, extreme violence, and war injustices.

Recent research gives us reason to be hopeful. A large meta-analysis of SEL programming showed positive impact up to 18 years later on academics, conduct problems, emotional distress, and drug use. And, higher social and emotional competencies among SEL students at the end of the initial intervention was the best predictor of long-term benefits, demonstrating how important it is to develop these competencies in students. Ending the cycle of conflict, violence, and trauma is critical to advance civil society and it is within our reach. 

If you would like to learn more about SEL, check out these resources:

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A Most Civil Dinner: Bridging Disagreement with Emotional Intelligence

Put two people together, and there will be disagreement. No matter how agreeable they are, even if they were part of the same zygote, each person will perceive the world differently, depending on their own experiences, assumptions, and filters. As one of the 12 Self-Discoveries of the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification program states, our Senses + Perception = Our Experience. Disagreeing is part of the human experience. And hopefully finding commonality as well. Our predecessors must have been quite successful at doing this; otherwise, they would have battled to the death over whether or not to use fire for cooking (No doubt many did. Thank goodness for those who decided, “yes, please.”)

Such natural disagreements have taken a different tone in contemporary times. The U.S. celebrates its freedom of speech for many, many good reasons. Yet it isn’t hard to see that we have entered into a space of uncivil discourse. Regardless of our political leanings, we have become prone to staying with our bubble of passionate peers, convinced the “Other” is wrong. Even if a possible disruption to our bubble arises, we might stifle that independent, wayward thought for fear of being ostracized or labeled as an enemy-from-within. We may stifle any urge to give the “Other” air time to share their misguided beliefs. Yet as Abraham Lincoln said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

History is full of lessons on the importance of self-awareness, and how it may allow us to have the wherewithal to critically examine ourselves, the situation, and others without letting our emotions snow us under. When we do that, we can better connect with others in more meaningful ways toward a common good, even with those with whom we have disagreements.

For example, Socrates, now revered as the Father of Western Philosophy, was not so popular in his day. His belief that “the unexamined life is not worth living” was not held in high regard, nor was his philosophy that one must use rhetoric to justify behavior, no matter how abhorrent that behavior. Today, the Socratic method, elenchus, of cooperative, argumentative dialogue is used in many settings, including classrooms, to get each party to draw out presuppositions. This requires critical thinking and the capacity to civilly make a case and challenge the other.

The examination of the self in order to regulate our emotions and behaviors, and to then show up for others, is part of a philosophical tradition that extends beyond Socrates to the likes of Confucius and many others. By doing this, we go beyond ourselves to impact others and the systemic and/or institutional realities around us.

The Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification (EICC) is grounded in a Self-Other-Systems approach. Self-Other-Systems relies on self-awareness and self-management (the foundation of the EICC model), enabling us to connect with others with curiosity and compassion and as a result shift organizations and systems.

One tool for civil discourse is the Jeffersonian Dinner, based on the dinners that Thomas Jefferson held during his time at Monticello. Jefferson wasn’t perfect, and perhaps his dinners were not as inclusive as they would (hopefully) be today, but we can learn from his goal of creating connection civilly.

An advocate and revitalizer of these dinners is Jeff Walker, author of the Generosity Network, who has been hosting modern-day Jeffersonian Dinners on topics ranging from global health, to anti-poverty, to education. The goal is to bring different people together to build real connection, challenge one’s perspective, open one’s bubble, and become motivated to take action. Innovative ideas arise from diverse perspectives; better relationships emerge from deeper connection; and progress happens when awareness moves us to action. During Jeffersonian Dinners, dinner guests are not allowed to only talk to the person next to them; rather, the point is to have a “one-mind conversatIon.” One table, one conversation. Everyone hears everyone.

In Walker’s TedX talk and article, he articulates the following rules:

  • The people: 12-15 at a table (consider ways to bring together people who might not otherwise find themselves at a table naturally)
  • The theme: offer a topic of interest
  • The narrative: set the progression of the discussion to go from ME to US to WE
    • Ask each person to connect with opening question on an individual level (ME).
    • Find commonality and connection with each other’s responses (US).
    • Take a pulse of what/who to follow up with (a pause).
    • Identify actions each person can take individually and together (WE).

This process can be used in a variety of settings, from board meetings to nonprofit gatherings. Recently, this method was used in a jury deliberation in which each member was asked to listen with an open mind, respect every opinion–no matter how much they disagreed–ask questions for clarification with curiosity and without judgment, share rationale based on evidence not speculation, and agree on the common goal of reaching the right decision. The judge lauded the jury for civilly coming to a decision quickly and with genuine curiosity, connection, and compassion.

This type of discussion requires self-awareness and self-management, so that we aren’t carried away by our own emotions or stuck in our own presumptions when someone else is speaking. With strength in these abilities, we can truly listen with curiosity and invite other perspectives that help us challenge and critically examine our own beliefs.

Civil discourse doesn’t require a dinner. Though filling the belly can be an added plus.

Recommended Resources:

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Emotional Intelligence Makes Resolutions Stick

It’s January, and you have a new set of weights which will finally keep you on track for a six-pack by this time next year. January is named after the Roman God Janus, god of transitions, beginnings, and endings, who is typically depicted with two faces. One looks to the past, one to the future. The past was the unused gym pass; the future is the chiseled abs. Somewhere in the middle is the hard work, the app you downloaded, and the kettlebell.

Regardless of whether your resolution is physical fitness or healthier relationships, the first day of the year is a universally accepted signal to stop living in the past and to break useless habits. It serves as a permission slip to be more present, take more chances, and live our best lives in the new year.

But how many of us actually do?

According to the U.S. News, 80% of people who set a resolution on January 1 break it by the second week of February. In other words, within six weeks of a well-intentioned change, we question, hesitate, and revert back to what is comfortable and known, even if it doesn’t work for us. Like Janus, our two faces constantly look backwards and forwards, but never focus on the present moment.

While there are wonderfully useful tips for how to stick to New Year’s resolutions–keep it simple, be specific, tell a friend–our brains tend to revert into our default mode in which we ruminate and dwell on what we coulda, shoulda, woulda. Or we worry about the future such that we forget to live in the moment. So instead of a quick, 10-minute set with our shiny new weights, we feel remorse at the third brownie we ate or worry about how to carve out time to do sit-ups for the next thirty.

The term “default mode” was first used by Marcus Raichle to describe our brain when it is “resting.” However, studies suggest that our brain isn’t just idling when “resting.” For many of us, our brains default to self-referential thinking (thinking about ourselves), rumination, or preoccupation. We want to go the gym, but our brain’s default system may override its good intentions with fears: What if other people laugh at me; what if this is a waste of energy; what if I don’t have time? To motivate ourselves to put in the hard work, we must shift our mindsets. We need to rejigger our brain’s default mode to one from which we can learn from the past without grasping, be mindful of what may come without anxiety, and live in the uncertainty of every day without avoidance.

Working towards a six-pack is not simply a physical exercise, but also a mental one.

Our brains play a large part in how successfully we will achieve a declared goal–or any habit change. One key domain of Emotional Intelligence that is essential to shifting mindsets and habits is Self-Management, our ability to balance our emotions to make progress towards our goals.

The first Self-Management competency is Emotional Self-Control, or Emotional Balance, the “ability to manage disturbing emotions and remain effective, even in stressful situations,” according to Daniel Goleman. Change is scary, no matter how small it might be. Something as seemingly innocuous as, say, deciding to eat more vegetables, may uncover a deeper emotion or underlying issue. Perhaps eating more vegetables brings back unpleasant memories of a parent forcing you to eat something you didn’t want, and that memory evokes a sense that you are losing your agency to say, “no.” With Emotional Self-Control, we don’t ignore our emotions, rather, we don’t let them hold us hostage. When obstacles arise between us and our goal, we become less susceptible to the whims of our impulsivity and strong emotions.

Second, Adaptability allows us to see change as positive. Let’s say you want to end an unhealthy relationship. It can be scary to let that connection go, no matter how little benefit the relationship offers you or the other person. There is comfort in the known, albeit the dysfunctional known. To move towards the unknown is a transition, and whenever we transition from what was to what will be, we experience change. When we become more adaptable to the uncertainties of life–including the ultimate outcome of our desired goal–we can effectively respond to challenges and transform fear of loss into possibilities for development.

Third, Achievement Orientation is our capacity to meet or exceed a standard of excellence and continually improve. Without this competency, we wouldn’t have the same motivation to effect change and persist when we encounter roadblocks. Strengthening this competency allows us not only to better manage ourselves, but also the context around us so that we can adjust and adapt accordingly to meet our desired goals.

Lastly, the Positive Outlook competency isn’t just about hoping for the best or putting on a happy face. It is an inclination towards the positive. It’s not just an attitude; our brains betray whether we have a tendency towards a Positive Outlook. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson found that people with frequent activation in the left prefrontal cortex tend to be more positive in their emotional outlook. They also may get frustrated when something gets in the way of their goals–and that frustration turns into motivation. On the other hand, those with more activation in the right prefrontal cortex are more likely to give up when the going gets tough.

We can build our Positive Outlook by increasing our “stickability” when obstacles get in our way, and by finding goals that give us meaning and purpose. As Daniel Goleman notes, when we do so, our left prefrontal cortex lights up like a Christmas tree. It is what moves, or motivates, us to keep working towards that goal.

Building our Emotional Intelligence in these competencies helps us become more aware of our default explanatory style about how the world works. Martin Seligman, known as the “father of Positive Psychology,” posed that humans generally have two default explanatory beliefs about the way the world works and their own agency. The first is a pessimistic explanatory style whereby we tend think that our situations are set in stone and that what is wrong will always be wrong. The second is an optimistic explanatory style whereby we think that the opposite.

When it comes to habit formation, either style can be inhibiting if not managed appropriately. The former may be a Debbie Downer who gives up prematurely, and the latter a Polly Anna who ignores reality. While practical realism can prove beneficial, studies suggest that people more disposed to an optimistic explanatory style remain less likely to give up when the going gets tough. In other words, seeing the world with only rose-colored lenses obscures what is really in front of you, and may lead you to make more rash or impulsive decisions. But when we face reality as it is, yet view it with a sense of hope and positivity, we can better recognize how to make the most of whatever challenges life presents.

Want that six-pack by next Christmas? Consider supplementing your new weights with a dose of Self-Management and its four competencies for an inside-out approach.

 

Interested in working with Belinda and helping others develop their Emotional Intelligence? Apply for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification–an in-depth program designed for experienced and aspiring coaches. Space is limited, so we encourage you to apply today.

 

 

 

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How Sleep Primes The Brain For Emotional Intelligence

When I first started dating my now husband, he asked me what he should know about me. The first thing I told him was that if he notices that I’m ever a bit “grumpy,” it’s likely an easy fix. I realized after a decade of sleep deprivation raising my three kids, who are now teenagers, that I need eight hours of sleep. Little did I know, it’s not just me…we all need our sleep. And, according to Matthew Walker, PhD’s new book, Why We Sleep, Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, getting eight hours of sleep not only makes us feel great, but measurably improves our performance. Sleep is also key to building Emotional Intelligence. It can affect our Emotional Self-Control, Empathy, and Adaptability, which are three of the twelve competencies that Daniel Goleman’s research has determined comprise Emotional Intelligence.

Getting eight hours of sleep is essential–not six or seven, but eight hours. Why? According to the research, those last two hours are filled with 60-90% of the important dream state REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It is during this time that our brains get a sort of emotional tune-up. As humans, we have the ability to deeply experience and regulate our emotions. We can recognize and influence the emotions of others. We also have more REM sleep than any other species. According to Walker, REM sleep “enhances emotional and social sophistication.”  

Here are three ways that sleep helps build Emotional Intelligence:

1.  Sleep helps us manage our emotions  

I described how I sometimes become “grumpy” when I don’t get enough sleep. Parents of young children experience this all the time. Both in the sleep deprived parent and in the toddler who was possibly up all through the night. We see it in the workplace when an “angry” leader might snap at and lose patience with a subordinate. A sleep deprived doctor can come across as impatient and have poor bedside manners. These “inappropriate emotions” are often the result of sleep deprived individuals. This is not an effective way to build strong relationships and improve connections. Managing ourselves and having Emotional Self-Control (also referred to as Emotional Balance) is a key competency for building Emotional Intelligence.  

So how does sleep help us manage our emotions? A part of the brain called the amygdala is responsible for triggering strong emotions such and anger and rage, and is linked to our fight or flight response. Walker describes a sleep study in which two groups were shown images that ranged from neutral in content (a basket, a piece of driftwood) to negative in content (a burning house, a venomous snake) to a group of individuals who stayed up all night and another group who got a full night of sleep. It turns out, the sleep deprived individuals showed well over a 60% increase in emotional reactivity in the amygdala. The well rested group showed only a modest degree of reactivity.

Without adequate sleep, we produce inappropriate emotional reactions and are unable to put things and situations in the appropriate contexts. To make matters worse, the part of our brain that is responsible for managing the emotions of the amygdala is compromised by sleep deprivation. This area, called the prefrontal cortex, is responsible for rational, logical decision making. Getting adequate rest is essential to maintaining Emotional Balance.  

2. Sleep builds Empathy  

Empathy is another important competency of Emotional Intelligence. Empathy means having the ability to sense other people’s feelings and understand what they are experiencing and thinking. It means having an interest in what matters to the other person. Our ability to recognize different emotions through facial expressions is one way that we can develop Empathy. Facial expressions communicate the emotions and intent of another person. Our response can be influenced by the expressions of another.   

There are regions of the brain whose job is to read and decode the meaning of emotional signals, especially in faces. It is these regions of the brain that REM sleep recalibrates at night. Matthew Walker makes the analogy, “we can think of REM sleep like a master piano tuner, one that readjusts the brain’s emotional instrumentation at night to pitch perfect precision, so that when you wake up the next morning, you can discern overt and subtly covert micro-expressions with exactitude.” When we deprive ourselves of this dream state REM sleep, facial expressions become distorted. This is where we might confuse a friendly expression with anger or frustration.   

I remember meeting my friend, Charles, for coffee one early morning. I had a late dinner meeting the night before and I felt exhausted. Shortly into our conversation, I shared a thought about an idea we were brainstorming. I could see his mouth close tight. He looked up. And I could feel my heart start to race. I thought to myself, “Here it comes.” I could feel my body tighten as I prepared for the coming argument and possible harsh critique of what I had just said. Just as I was about to prematurely defend myself and my idea out loud, Charles broke into a smile, his eyes softened and he said, “I agree.”

I had mistaken his “thinking” look with what I thought was an “angry” look. What started off as a friendly conversation could have easily turned into a negative experience. Thankfully, I didn’t react to my sleep deprived misinterpretation.

3. Sleep sparks creativity

Being able to handle change and adapt to new situations with fresh ideas or innovative approaches is another key competency in building Emotional Intelligence.  

How does this show up in the brain after a good night of sleep? Walker shows through several studies the increased creativity of his participants compared to the sleep deprived individuals. It is especially true after a full night of rich dream state REM sleep. One study showed problem solving abilities increased by 15-35%. A full night of dream-induced REM sleep also revealed an ease in problem solving. When we are in our dream state, our mind can process a wide range of stored information and come up with multiple solutions for complicated problems.  

In the workplace, a creative leader can adapt more easily to a changing environment. They can think of multiple ways to achieve their goals. They don’t get stuck in the same old ways of doing things. They are open to new ideas and perspectives. And they are therefore able to grow and innovate. These are all important aspects of Emotional Intelligence.  

It is clear that getting eight hours of sleep, especially the dream state REM sleep, is essential to well-being, optimal performance at work, and building our Emotional Intelligence. So how do we actually get better sleep? Walker offers several ideas. Here are my top three favorites:

  • Exercise! But not within 2-3 hours of sleep. Exercise helps your brain and body to relax, but working out too close to bedtime can be counterproductive. Your body temperature can remain high after exercise, making it difficult to drop your core temperature sufficiently to initiate sleep.
  • Allow yourself adequate time to prepare for bed. Reading, using dim lights or candles, and listening to soft music are soothing activities to prime yourself for rest.  
  • Create a tidy, gadget-free bedroom environment that is conducive to sleep. Tidy up your bedroom and remove your gadgets so that distractions are minimized. Open the windows to cool down the room; this helps drop core body temperature which is also needed to initiate sleep.

Recommended Resources:

 

 

Want to cultivate your Emotional Intelligence or bring EI training to your organization? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. You’ll explore twelve learning paths based on Daniel Goleman’s books and research through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

 

 

 

 

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, and Empathy.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

 

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The Vital Role of Resilience in Emergencies

**Update: all 12 Wild Boars, their coach, and the rescuers are now safe! A true effort, from those who cooked and fed the volunteers, to the schoolchildren who prayed, to the frogman who stayed with the team. A moment of gratitude and respect for Saman Gunan.

 

Much of the world has been riveted to the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach in Thailand. As the eighth “Wild Boar” is now in the hospital, it goes without notice how much mental fortitude, mindfulness, and emotional balance has played a role in the survival of the soccer team for two weeks in claustrophobic, frightening conditions, and in the innovative problem solving and collaborative action of an international team of planners and rescuers putting the young men’s lives over their own.

The boys look skinnier than usual, but seem to maintain their humanity and humor. They joked about getting fried BBQ and asking their teacher not to give them too much homework. How do these young boys and their coach, barely older than them at 25, have the fortitude to maintain their calm despite great uncertainty of their rescue?

First, let’s take a look at what happens to our brains and bodies in emergencies.

Our brains are designed to react quickly to threats for our survival. When we’re under sudden attack, stress-related hormones adrenaline and cortisol flood our bodies, our heart rate goes up, and our vision decreases up to 70%. All these physiological changes compromise our cognitive flexibility to come up with the wise or innovative solutions. Our fight/flight/freeze default take over our prefrontal cortex – our brain’s executive functioning area, and we have an amygdala hijack. Our ability to logically think is greatly reduced. We go into autopilot, reduce our capacity to consider wise or innovative solutions, or fail to make the choice that will actually get us out of trouble.

Have you ever been caught in a tight bind and made the wrong turn? You’re not alone. We hear unfortunate stories of people who have met their doom because of a sudden wrong decision in the heat of the moment. According to psychologist John Leach, 85% of people respond inappropriately in a crisis. In 2011, George Larson was one of 17 survivors out of 65 because he was one of the few with the wherewithal to get himself out of a burning plane before it exploded. In airplane crashes, it is common for passengers to scramble for their bags from the overhead lockers first. It’s easy for us to say now “that wouldn’t be me,” but in an emergency, even the “smartest” of us get stuck brains.

Daniel Goleman uses the analogy of a basement and balcony. In emergencies, whether catastrophes like tsunamis or getting stuck underground in a cave for weeks, we often go to the “basement,” our brain’s primitive threat response system. But if we are to respond with greater wisdom and flexibility, it is important to “go to the balcony,” and view the crisis from a broader perspective and get as much information as possible to  make a wiser decision of how to proceed. This requires our prefrontal cortex to stay in the game.

Let’s go back to the question: how does the young Thai soccer team have the fortitude to maintain their calm despite great uncertainty of their rescue?

Undoubtedly, there are many factors, and researchers will probably be eager to learn about their survival. A few early indicators suggest that mindfulness, meditation, compassion, cognitive flexibility, collaboration, and resilience have played a huge role. The boys’ soccer coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, is a novice monk. Reports indicate that he taught the boys how to meditate as they sat in dank darkness without any indicators of how they would get out. He taught them to refocus their minds away from hunger and fear, and to maintain emotional balance and build resilience during this harrowing ordeal.

Now as the first eight boys are safely in the hospital, divers continue these efforts, recognizing that the most difficult part is not the lack of the boys’ ability to swim or visibility – the divers are there to guide them. The most difficult part is for the boys – and divers – to maintain their mental focus and calm for each of the 11-hour trek through tight passageways underwater so that they do not get an amygdala hijack and panic. If that happens, then they are in real trouble.

There is also the mental fortitude and resilience required of the remaining boys and their coach as they watch their mates leave the cave, not knowing if their mates survived and not knowing if they too will be rescued. The team of rescuers are rescuing the mentally strongest last. There was a 10-hour gap between the rescue of the first and second group to replenish oxygen, and now another long gap until the next group. Ten hours is an eternity once you see your mates leave. Being left behind can pose additional threats to the body’s survival instinct, and so they will have to draw from even greater reservoirs of mindfulness and emotional balance.

Then there are the rescuers. These rescuers have clearly stepped up to the balcony rather than the basement. They have taken as much into account to make the decisions to begin rescues now rather than wait for more heavy rains. Additionally, their emotional balance has allowed them to put aside any personal differences to form an international coalition of 90 divers – 40 Thai and 50 non-Thai. There are 13 medical teams each with their own ambulance and helicopter, and 30 doctors await. There are the engineers who pumped out water. There are others ready to activate Plans C, D, and E, from Elon Musk’s submarine to Pairojana Toontong’s inflatable tube. There is Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy Seal who gave his life ensuring the treacherous path has oxygen. Their collective diversity of perspectives, languages, cultures, and experiences fuels the cognitive flexibility, trust, and clarity of when to act, and is indicative of how a sense of purpose can lead to greater connection and team performance. This team’s sense of empathic concern has moved a global movement from just sitting by and feeling badly for the boys to putting their own lives at risk. Watching the rescuers is to watch true leadership and teamwork in action.

Finally, the emotional balance the boys’ families are demonstrating is a lesson in compassion. While some are chiding the coach for being negligent, and Ekopol himself has already apologized to the families, the children’s families are focusing on how Ekapol has helped their children survive. He is said to be the weakest, having given his share of food to the boys. One mother said: “when [Ekapol] comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”

As we write, we continue to send our collective thoughts for all to return safely.

Recommended Resources:

 

 

Interested in cultivating your own Emotional Balance? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like to learn more about the fundamentals of Emotional Intelligence, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Control (or Emotional Balance), Empathy, and Teamwork. The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

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What is Emotional Balance? (And How to Cultivate It)

Emotional Balance, also referred to as Emotional Self-Control, is a competency under the Self-Management domain. People with strengths in Emotional Balance find ways to manage their impulses and emotions, even in stressful situations. To begin cultivating your own Emotional Balance, the new Emotional Balance Learning Path is available here.

Developing Emotional Balance begins with a solid foundation of Self-Awareness, the heart of Emotional Intelligence. Self-Awareness enables us to recognize our emotions as they occur and the ways in which our emotions impact all aspects of our lives. Without Self-Awareness, we remain on autopilot and fall back on unquestioned behavioral responses and routines. In order to affect behavioral change, we must first become attuned to our emotions, and the ways in which they positively and negatively inform our lives.

Focus, a foundational skill for Emotional Intelligence, is intrinsic to a range of competencies, including Self-Awareness and Emotional Balance. In the workplace, leaders with strengths in Emotional Self-Awareness cultivate focused teams that are engaged and motivated. While there are several types of focus, including the ability to focus on others, which requires Empathy, and big picture focus, which is related to Organizational Awareness, inner focus is the most essential to the development of Emotional Balance.

Mindfulness or presence of mind, like inner focus, is condition of Emotional Balance. Mindfulness is that aspect of mind that acts as an inner rudder, alerting us to when we’ve deviated from our path in the moment. For example, if we are aware of a bad habit we have, like interrupting others, it is our presence of mind that catches us on the spot before we interrupt someone, sending us a subtle reminder or cue not to interrupt. Practices like meditation with focus, body scan, and self-reflection enable us to strengthen our concentration and awareness. By routinely tuning-in to our emotions and utilizing practices that familiarize ourselves with patterns in our reactions, we can cultivate Emotional Balance.

In this way, self-awareness, focus, and mindfulness serve as the three, interconnected skills that enable us to exercise Emotional Balance. While it may seem intimidating to develop each of these skills, their interdependence makes it easier to turn progress in one area into positive development across all three. Similarly, just as Self-Awareness and Emotional Balance are foundational to Emotional Intelligence, they can open doors to strengthening our Emotional Intelligence across the suite of twelve EI competencies.

Recommended Resources:

 

Ready to develop your competencies in Emotional Intelligence? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

 

 

 

 

Interested in helping others develop Emotional Balance? Our new Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification is now accepting applications. This in-depth program, akin to a professional degree, draws upon a range of evidence-based concepts and practices, including the Emotional & Social Intelligence framework. Coaches will gain meaningful new insights to impact their personal and professional lives while elevating their expertise.

 

 

 

 

If you would like to learn more about the fundamentals of Emotional Intelligence, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, and Empathy. The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

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How to Give Emotionally Intelligent Criticism

Whether you are a team leader or a member of a team, you will likely encounter situations in which you need to offer criticism or constructive feedback. While this can be difficult, giving feedback is a necessary part of leadership and being a member of a team. Teams that openly address counterproductive behavior create an environment that fosters continuous development, learning, and innovation. The ability to give effective, emotionally intelligent criticism is essential to high levels of team performance.

What Does It Mean to Offer Effective Criticism?

People who give effective criticism balance empathy and an understanding of the person they are giving feedback to with an objective and calm demeanor. They have developed trust through interpersonal understanding and compassion. They know team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and unique abilities. They know if someone would rather receive feedback one on one, or if they are fine with a group setting. They offer objective criticism and deliver it calmly, without divisive emotions.

While many of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies play a role in the ability to give effective criticism, Emotional Self-Control and Empathy are essential to giving effective criticism, particularly in relation to Teamwork.

How to Develop Emotional Self-Control

Developing Emotional Self-Control begins with recognizing your emotions as they occur. When you notice yourself experiencing a strong emotion, whether it be anger, frustration, or something else, make an effort to identify the source of the emotion.

Mindfulness meditation can help you become more aware of your emotional state, while journaling can offer a healthy way to release emotions and track your state of mind over time. In both of these practices, avoid self-judgement. Recognize your thoughts and feelings, but do not overly identify with them or give them too much power.

In addition to making you equipped to give effective criticism, Emotional Self-Control can also make you better able to receive feedback. By contextualizing feedback as information, instead of taking it as a personal criticism, you can internalize it from a context beyond yourself as an individual. As with giving criticism, this is a vital skill for both team leaders and team members. In order to cultivate a team that actively self-evaluates, everyone involved must be open to input and new ideas.

How to Develop Empathy

While Emotional Self-Control requires tuning into your own emotions, Empathy can be developed by tuning into the emotions of others. Nonverbal indicators of emotion, such as facial expressions and body language, can help us get a sense of how others are feeling. More actively, asking questions, and showing genuine interest in people’s responses, makes us better able to understand their emotions and to care more deeply for them. Active listening, which includes making eye-contact when someone is speaking, and nodding if you agree with them, demonstrates your engagement with that person’s thoughts and feelings.

Developing Empathy is also key to fostering mutual trust on a team. Team members that are compassionate toward one another, and care about each other’s abilities and preferences, create an environment of trust, in which people feel comfortable holding each other accountable.   

How to Balance Emotional-Self Control and Empathy to Cultivate an Accountable Team

In her studies of Team EI Norms, detailed in Teamwork: A Primer, Vanessa Druskat found that balanced levels of specific competencies most accurately predicted the emergence of certain Team EI Norms. In the case of the Team EI Norm “addressing counterproductive behavior,” Druskat and her team found that team leaders with strengths in Emotional Self-Control are most able to cultivate an environment in which team members hold each other accountable.

“High empathy seemed to get in the way of providing ‘tough’ feedback. The optimal leader profile was a leader who had high empathy and also a high level of self-control.”

Leaders with a balance of Emotional Self-Control and Empathy can manage their emotions and deliver difficult feedback in an impactful way, while also considering the emotions of the person they are critiquing.

An effective balance between these two competencies also strengthens the Teamwork Competency. High levels of Empathy, balanced with Emotional Self-Control, yield teams focused on relationship development and effective accountability. Compassionate teams, that care about each other and their contributions to the group, lay a solid foundation for the creation of open channels for honest feedback. In this way, effective, emotionally intelligent criticism becomes a vital aspect of the team’s process, as they hold each other accountable for their level of performance.

Recommended Resources:

Interested in coaching others in Emotional Intelligence? Our new Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification is now accepting applications. This in-depth program, akin to a professional degree, draws upon a range of evidence-based concepts and practices, including the Emotional & Social Intelligence framework. Coaches will gain meaningful new insights to impact their personal and professional lives while elevating their expertise.

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the 12 Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Control, Empathy, and Teamwork.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

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