Galina Svirina (Susloparova), Ph.D.
What can be more important than harmony in personal and working relationships? Yet, it seems that this area of our life tends to be challenging, even for the most successful people. Many thinkers, psychologists, religious and spiritual leaders, have been trying to find a philosopher stone, one secret element necessary for achieving harmony. The initial meaning of the very word “harmony” is an integral unity of all parts, which suggests using an integral approach to finding better ways of tuning in our emotional life. Starting from our microcosm, we can achieve better outcomes in the macrocosm and engender the changes in our life that we so long for. In this article, I will consider how tuning into the concept of emotional intelligence through the prism of integral vision can help us become more proactive and control our emotions.
If you expect change – become the change yourself – this is a golden rule, utilized by integral vision; it tells us to start from the “I” quadrant, the sphere which conveys the discourse from the first person, basically what we perceive as the essence of our personal world. It was thought to be pivotal by such thinkers as V. Frankl and S. Covey when they were working on the concept of proactive attitude. The example of V. Frankl may be the most convincing and astounding – having found himself in the most dreadful circumstances, he came to the most difficult, but truly spiritual inference – there is no one else to blame for our emotions, and there is no one but ourselves who are responsible for how to react to the impulses of the outer world. Stephen Covey developed this idea in his all time bestseller “7 principles of highly effective people”, where he was talking about being able to take responsibility for what we feel and how we react to outside impulses as an integral feature of any leader.
“I” is a prism through which we perceive any situation, and as soon we are ready to own what we feel, we can move to looking at a conflict situation through the “we” quadrant. In this quadrant we can see an underlying algorithm of any relationship, certain unspoken rules that manage how we behave in the presence of our partner and often how we feel ourselves. How many times have you found yourselves mad at your partner not even remembering what it was really about the day after? How often do we feel underappreciated and not loved under the barrage of “you are always”, “you are never” and other clichés that unfortunately too familiar to many couples. Too often we generalize, criticize our partner as a person instead of pointing out one specific fault, become defensive or even aggressive. All these behaviors deplete “the emotional bank account” described by Covey. The worst outcome is when people become convinced in having irreconcilable differences and set out to find a better, more “suitable” match only to become disillusioned over and over again. Fortunately, integral vision can help us solve some of these problems.
Quadrant “It” gives us the necessary means to regulate objective aspects in our relationships. It implies looking at the situation as if from the outside, which is invaluable in any conflict situation. Such a look from the outside of the situation allows you to calm down, to evaluate the problem more rationally and to cause less harm by being more objective. As soon as we are ready to take responsibility for our emotions, we can try using those instruments that many thinkers and philosophers provided us with in order to enhance the efficiency of communication. Marshall Rosenberg was the one who gave us certain practical advice on how to fight reactivity, e.g. those emotions that we find difficult to control.
In Rosenberg’s view, the most important thing in resolving a conflict is to keep in mind the eventual aim of the communication. For example, if you are having a problem with your partner being late too often, it is crucial to remember that your goal is to make it happen less often, and not to blame him or her or make them feel bad. This is why instead of saying “You are always late!” or “You do not value other people’s time!” it is much better to ask “What can be done to help you come on time?”, or “How can I help you to plan your time better?” In that case the conversation will become more constructive and there will be less negativity. This advice sounds too simple, especially, when we remember that such conversations usually happen after too many negative emotions overtake our mood and we act under their influence. If a partner is late for dinner that has lost its last hope to be romantic, or the most important part of your children’s play has passed, the biggest temptation there is to let your negative emotions run loose and try to make your partner feel how stressed and upset you are. Sometimes it seems that it only makes sense to make them feel what we feel, sometimes we think that it is a fair punishment, sometimes we just cannot control our actions even if we understand that making our partner upset will not make things better. Why is it so and does it really help us to feel better? The researches show that no — when we express our stress openly and angrily at our partner, it only adds stress hormones to our bodies. It turns out that shouting and screaming is not the best way or the only possible way to react, it is just the simplest one for us. As they say, no thing, which is worth having, is easy to achieve, this is why we first need to understand that avoiding such reaction will not be easy but will definitely be beneficial. When we are shouting or acting angry, we become somehow distracted from our own feelings, for a brief moment we do not really need to feel them, we have something else to do until we realize how much harm we have just done. Staying calm in presence with our own negative emotions, is probably the most difficult thing there is in terms of emotional intelligence. Sometimes it seems impossible to face our own emotions, not knowing what to do with them. It’s the helplessness that makes it impossible to bear – the truth which Frankl has discovered in the most dreadful circumstances: being a captive in a nazi concentration camp he knew too well that there is nothing worse than being a prisoner. What is amazing is that he also understood that too often we become prisoners of our own minds, when we feel like we do not know what to do with our emotions, how to escape them or manage them. It is the moment when we decide that an open conflict is much better, but an alternative exists.
The most important thing when we are negative emotions-ridden is to take a pause. Of course it is quite difficult, but it does not mean that it is impossible. And looking at the situation through the “IT” quadrant can help us once again. Looking at a conflict as if we were outside spectators can reveal the truth that our partner’s action and words may be interpreted in an endless amount of versions. We can see that the way we perceive the situation from the “I” point of view is not always accurate. Meditation is essentially a tool for looking at ourselves from an outer point of view, and practicing it can help us a lot in managing conflict situations. If we are able to create a little distance between the cause of our negative emotions and our reaction, then we can see that only we, ourselves, can control them. Essentially, the idea that we can satisfy all our needs, including emotional ones, is the corner stone of being an adult. This is why we cannot consider ourselves emotionally mature unless we are able to face and control our own emotions.
In order to overcome this problem it is essential to understand where it comes from. American psychologist H. Hendrix was trying to figure out why we try to stress out people around us even if we know that it will make the situation even worse. He came to a conclusion that this reflex is formed in our childhood, when the only means of getting someone’s attention was to stress them by loud crying. A baby does not have any other means of communication, so they learn that their survival actually depends on how well they can bring the attention of others to their needs. It takes practice, when we grow up to understand that by taking a pause, we are trying to resolve any issue positively.
“It” quadrant gives us the necessary instrument to resolve arguments through taking a pause and utilizing a positive intonation. But what if we have another obstacle in managing a conflict situation – an anger-ridden or stressed partner? If your partner does not take time to control his own anger, then Rosenberg offers to apply the mirror effect – the technique when you are clarifying your partner’s words and intention by re-asking if you have understood them correctly. For example, if the partner tells you “You are never listening to me!” instead of becoming defensive or accusing your partner in turn, it is better to ask “Do I understand correctly that you feel like you are not quite understood?”
Whichever instrument you use, it is important to remember that none of them will make your partner behave in a certain way against his or her will. You can only ask to make a change in something by explaining how the actions of the person affect you. Sometimes even if you do that in a positive way, it does not guarantee that your partner will comply. Remembering it will help you use less of an imperative tone when you ask for something and be less upset if you do not reach your goal right away.
“ITS” quadrant tells us what to do when conflicts arise not between close people, but in business or social interaction with strangers. Any society is run by a subtle underlying system that governs the rule of behavior and interaction. There is no such term in Russian language as “passive aggressive”, probably because it is so widespread and common that it is not even recognized as a separate abnormal type of communication. It is especially astounding that servers are prone to be passive aggressive, even though, having good communication skills is thought to be important for those who work with people. One reason of that is the big distance between the authority and the employers. When there is no way to criticize the management, people feel helpless which, of course, causes additional stress. If there is no relief of that kind of stress, it is expressed implicitly when communicating with other people.
Any true leader should remember that the real change always starts with “I” quadrant when we take responsibility for our emotions. Through “WE” quadrant we regulate our relationship with a partner or a colleague at work. “IT” quadrant provides us with the necessary tools, while “ITS” helps us see ourselves and our relations in a larger system of social interactions. Therefore, the development of leadership skills is inseparable with integral vision that requires us to see a situation through the four quadrants in order to achieve the desired results.
Coming back to “IT” quadrant we can attain more instruments to tune in our personal and working relationships. For example, in D. Goleman book “Emotional Intelligence” explains how important emotional sensitivity is when working in a team. Goleman provides an example of a flight run by Malburn McBroom, a very experienced captain who led his crew and the whole plane to the death, partly due to lack of effective communication in his team. He was an authoritarian boss, and his employers were afraid to tell him that the fuel was running low. Even facing fatal threat they were too afraid of their boss and felt that open communication would not lead to any positive results. This example shows how dreadful inefficient communication can be, not only with our partners and family, but also at work and in social settings.
Goleman gives advice on how to streamline our communication and leadership skills. Misunderstanding and even conflict often arise where there is no effective communication. This is why it is important to deliver our thoughts and feelings as clear as possible to those who we are working with. It is important to follow the four crucial rules formulated by H. Levinson
- state the problem clearly
- suggest a decision
- be there
- exercise sensitivity
The first principle is especially important when you need to criticize someone’s work, which is especially difficult to do in a positive way. The first mistake we tend to do is to over generalize. When we say things like “You are always late”, “You are never listening to me”, “You do not work well”, the person thinks that everything he does is bad or he has some negative traits. The second rule – to always suggest a decision – is also crucial. Only by offering a solution to a problem, we can claim our criticism to be positive. We also have to ensure to express our negativity personally. It is surprising how often we forget about this simple politeness even with close people when we prefer to send a text or an email over a personal talk.
Another important point when there is a need for resolving a negative issue or delivering criticism is to remember about the plurality of interpretation. It means that the way your interlocutor reacts to your words can be understood in many different ways. For example, if they frown it may mean they are upset just as well as it might indicate indigestion or a bad day at work. It is vitally important to remember that there is always a gap between what we think our partner feels and thinks and what is actually on their mind. If we remember this, it can help us avoid unnecessary negativity and what is called a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The last principle – to exercise sensitivity- is probably the most important one. Empathy is inherent to all animals, but for humans it plays a pivotal role in self-development and self-actualization. It manifests itself in the first quadrant “I” when we are able to feel the same emotions as our partner, also in “WE” quadrant when we utilize it in order to commiserate with the other and advance our relationship. We can also use empathy in “IT” when we turn to the instruments for such advancement. It is also in “ITS” when we consider the situation from the systematical point of view and see our issue as one element of one system.
Therefore, going through all four quadrants we can see that harmonic relationships are possible if we use an integral approach to our psychological and spiritual life. Through our “I” we learn to analyze our reactions and to see that we are responsible for our emotions. “WE” gives us the notion of using this control in interactions with other people; we can see how the set of rituals and underlying rules existing in any relationship can be changed to more positive outcomes. “IT” gives us necessary tools for all the changes we strive to implement in our life, and “ITS” allows to approach any issue as an element in a system, an element which inevitably influences all the other components. By using an integral approach we can find the philosopher stone of harmonic relationship inside ourselves. Once we have done this, an alchemic reaction of creating a better world around ourselves is inevitable.
About the Author
Galina Svirina (Susloparova) Ph.D., is a philologist and a founder of www.executive-language.ru has written her thesis on literature of the silver Age and been always interested in humanitarian aspect of relationship and its phsycological and philosophical aspects.
This article is a result of a co-joint creative project organized by Involve Spirit, LLC and Integral Space, LLC. We invited people of different professions who completed a course on the Integral approach to write an essay on their favorite topic, using an integral lens.