Emotional Intelligence and Social Change: A Conflict skills and Peacemaking Activity

Designed by Haley Nelson

Background Information/Content

Social-emotional intelligence is central to group dynamics and conflict. Yet, the exploration of emotional intelligence has historically been neglected in conflict resolution and peacebuilding conversations. The absence of emotional intelligence in conflicts can hinder the ability of group members to navigate conflict, empathize with others, and manage relationships (Schwarz, 2002). When emotional intelligence is considered at the educational, community, or organizational level, group members can learn to harness emotion as a community and relationship-building tool. 

This activity explores emotional intelligence in the context of peace education. This resource draws inspiration from psychology surrounding basic emotions, emotional wheels, and the origin of emotion, as well as conflict resolution and peacebuilding research on emotions and conflict. This activity will support groups in building emotional intelligence on the individual and social levels. This activity is best suited for groups with a common goal, such as classrooms, community organizations, and the workplace. 

Context

This activity is best suited for high school students, college-age students, and adults. The formality of this activity can be adapted to various education settings but is neutral in its current form. The activity consists of two phases and will take approximately 30 minutes per phase. The length of this activity may vary based on the depth of conversation and volume of participation.

The recommended group size for this activity is 4-10 people. Increased group size will increase duration, allowing for productive discussion among group members. This activity would be best supported by materials such as sticky notes, note cards, and a whiteboard. However, this exercise can be completed via discussion if these resources are unavailable.  

Implementation

Phase 1: (30-45 minutes)

  • Introduction (2-3 minutes):
    • Check-in on how everyone feels and provide context for the activity. The purpose of this introduction is to reveal that the activity will encourage participants to explore and feel daily emotions and tensions. The facilitator should consider establishing a controlled environment where participants can explore emotions safely. An introductory example is below:
      • “We are going to discuss emotional intelligence today. We will create a respective space where real emotions will be felt. We will go through a simulation designed to stimulate emotions in scenarios we feel and experience in our daily lives. If you feel the need to leave the space and take a moment for yourself at any time, please do so.”
    • Describe the importance of emotional intelligence when managing conflict.
  • Description of the simulation (2-3 minutes):
    • Provide a scenario, context, and discussion topic for the audience to navigate. For example, a dinner party discussing travel destinations will generate conversation and allow participants a neutral space to explore group dynamics.Assign behavioral traits to participants randomly: Each participant will be assigned a behavioral trait designed to generate tension, such as disruptive talking, withdrawn behavior, and overconfidence.
      • Remind the audience of the difference between behavior and emotions, acknowledging that the two might contrast during the activity.
    • Open conversation for any questions before beginning.
  • Simulation (5-10 minutes)
    • During the simulation, the participants will navigate conversation based on the context and behavioral traits provided. The group may find conversation challenging to navigate. The goal of the activity is to stimulate emotions based on the role assigned, the conversations at hand, or the simulation process itself.
  • Reflection: (5 minutes)
    • Take a moment to check in with participants. Ask the audience to write down the emotions 1. They experienced during the role play, and 2. Behaviors that might indicate others’ emotions during the role play.
    • After listing these observations on a notecard or sticky note, ask participants to hold on to their observations for later conversation (allowing for further engagement).
  • Individual level emotional intelligence? (10 minutes)
    • Define emotional intelligence and explore this definition with the group. This is an excellent opportunity to explore the meaning behind emotional intelligence and clarify any questions regarding emotional intelligence with the group.
    • After defining emotional intelligence, ask group members to share the emotions they experienced during the activity with the group. Ask the participants to refrain from group observations until later.
      • Explore the dynamic of emotions as they arise:
        • Did members experience multiple emotions? Were those emotions in harmony with one another? Did emotions contrast with each other?
  • Clarifying emotions (5-10 minutes):
    • Explore the six types of basic emotions with the group: happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, and surprise. Then, explore emotions surrounding each category and how they can be clarified. For example: if a group member said they felt anxious during the activity, that emotion is rooted in fear. If a group member said they felt confused during the activity, that emotion is rooted in surprise. Provide examples for the group, then encourage them to clarify their shared emotions.
    • Many people, especially adults, will provide cognitive responses instead of emotions when asked how they feel. When asked what emotions they experienced during the activity, a cognitive response might sound like, “conversations about travel destinations made me want to explore the world more.” Encourage using the emotional wheel to assist participants in shifting from cognitive responses to emotional responses. Ask the participant which emotion is closest to their shared responses and explore the differences between emotion and cognition.

Phase 2: (20-30 minutes)

  • Social-emotional intelligence (5-10 minutes)
    • Ask the participants to return to their group observational notes from the simulation. Consider what cues clued participants in on how others might have been feeling.Provide an example of clarifying social emotions for the group:
      • “I noticed that you were quiet after being interrupted. Did you feel sad after that interaction?” Remind the group to use core emotion vocabulary (i.e., happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, surprise). 
      Allow group members to share their observations. 
    • Open a conversation to ask how accurate their observations were.
      • Why were my observations accurate/inaccurate? How can I better observe the emotions in groups moving forward? 
  • Further discussion: (15-20 minutes)
    • Allow the group to discuss their experience with the activity in depth. Some guiding questions might include the following:
      • How aware were you in the moment of your emotions? Others? 
      • Did you feel that other people’s emotions influenced yours? How? 
      • What were your reactions to emotions in the space? How/did you respond?
      • How might you manage your reactions to emotions in the future?
      • How difficult was it to clarify your emotions? 

Ways to further curate this resource:

  • Pedagogies that may strengthen this resource involve increased participant freedom and involvement. The facilitator of this exercise might increase participant freedom by:
    • Encouraging group members to create their own activities to stimulate everyday emotions.
    • Allowing group members to redefine emotional intelligence for themselves based on shared interests.
    • Involving artistic approaches to exploring emotions such as paintings, photographs, and music. This might involve emotional responses to the creation of artwork or the observation of artwork.

Goal

This activity focuses on individual and social-emotional intelligence. As an introduction to emotional intelligence, this activity seeks to help group members identify their emotions and clarify the origin of their emotions. At the group level, this activity seeks to increase awareness of group dynamics through observations and clarification of emotion. This activity aims to foster empathy and connection within a group by discussing the relationship between individual and social emotions. 

After this activity, participants should be able to:

  • Understand the meaning and importance of emotional intelligence.
  • Clarify everyday emotions into the six core emotions.
  • Have increased awareness of the connection between individual and social emotions. 

Resources

Further reading on emotions and insight into social-emotional intelligence:

Cherry, K. (2022, December). The 6 types of basic emotions and their effect on human behavior. Verywell Mind. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-the-types-of-emotions-4163976 

The Junto Emotion Wheel. The Junto Institute. (2022). Retrieved 2022, from https://www.thejuntoinstitute.com/emotion-wheels/ 

Schwarz, R. (2002). Ch 12: Dealing With Emotions. In The skilled facilitator: A comprehensive resource for consultants, facilitators, managers, trainers, and coaches. essay, Jossey-Bass. 

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