In the previous module we took a broad look at social and emotional learning (SEL) – how emotions and feelings develop in the brain, how emotions impact our actions, how developments in positive psychology can shape our emotions, and the various theories on the human propensity towards violence or empathy, aggression or compassion, and the impact those conceptions have on how social and emotional learning is interpreted and implemented in schools.

Conflict resolution, particularly as practiced in schools, emerged from this growing interest in social and emotional learning (SEL). This module continues our exploration or SEL, but looks more specifically at the skills and programs designed to address conflicts that arise in learning environments.

In this video PBS’ News Hour highlights how various aspects of social emotional learning are taught and integrated into classrooms.  You will notice references to concepts such as conflict transformation, active listening, I-messages, and finding “win-win” solutions to conflicts – all of which will be unpacked further throughout this module.



Read chapter 16 of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. In it he provides some concrete examples from schools of how social and emotional learning has helped birth a commitment to skill building and programs that seek to address and resolve conflicts.

“With the curriculum already besieged by a proliferation of new topics and agendas, some teachers who understandably feel overburdened resist taking extra time from the basics for yet another course. So an emerging strategy in emotional education is not to create a new class, but to blend lessons on feelings and relationships with other topics already taught. Emotional lesson can merge naturally into reading, and writing, health, science, social studies, and other standard courses as well (Goleman, 271).”

Reflection Question: Who is one of the most emotionally intelligent people that you know? Think about how they manage conflicts when they arise. What specifically does that person do in those conflict situations that demonstrate their emotional intelligence?

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26 thoughts on “5.2

  1. I couldn’t think of any particular person who is emotionally intelligent. But I combined some strategies from a few teachers including me within my two years teachings.
    1. Switching attention. When my students cry and complain, the first thing I do is to switch their attentions on that particular upsetting moment. I would switch to a silly thing relate to their experience. For example, I had a student crying this morning, saying she missed mommy. I held her and gave her a big disappointing face, “you don’t miss your Ms. Miao? I missed the entire weekend, but I can’t believe you don’t want to stay with Ms.Miao?!” The kid calmed down a lot, trying to explain, “well, I miss both Ms. Miao and my mommy” Then I started talking about I like the cute bunnies on her T-shirt. Then the transition is smoother.
    2. Be an active listener. This is so right that we have to give patience and time to students, because there is a need. A need to be heard and I found by giving kids more time to listen to them, it is better to punish them. It saves more time and avoid the negative energy.

  2. My fiance, is the most intelligent person I know. When I look at the way the two of us manage conflicts, there are striking differences. I grew up in a house that didn’t really talk about their feelings. So my emotional intelligence is quite limited however, my fiancee did. She handles conflicts without raising her voice and even though she might be quite mad an upset at me her voice would never indicate that. She is always able to stay cool and calm when we are having an argument. Not growing up with anything resembling This is a trait that I would like to acquire and this is also a trait that I believe would serve me quite well in the classroom.

  3. I think this is a fascinating question! I’ve thought about people that are really graceful in socially tense of conflict situations and have tried to pinpoint what it is about them.

    I used to work at a bar and we had the most amazing man who worked the door doing security. As employees we were supposed to tell him if there was ever any inappropriate or unsafe behavior taking place and he would come take care of it. I worked on the back patio, where a good portion of the conflicts would take place, so I got to observe him work his magic pretty often. I remember thinking and sometimes even saying “this man should write a book! He should be working at the UN! He should be working in conflict zones! Seriously, how does he do it?! It’s like he has a magic wand.” He would approach escalating situations and seem to diffuse them within seconds.
    From what I could tell, he managed to approach the individuals in conflict in the following ways:
    – He spoke with people in a way that whenever possible allowed them to maintain some dignity and give them a chance to halt their own behavior, and did not make physical contact whenever possible;
    – He approached with confidence and assertion using his body language to make it very clear he meant business and was going to do something about their behavior (it helped that he was 7 feet tall);
    – If he had a chance to speak (if it wasn’t too loud or too escalated) he would speak briefly and clearly about his intention and responsibility for keeping the space safe for everyone in the establishment, in other words he tried to make it clear why he was intervening and/or kicking them out of the bar
    – He was also a very sweet, gentle, kind, funny and approachable presence around the bar when he wasn’t breaking up conflicts. He came in each night and greeted each staff members and many patrons – especially the regulars. He made conversation with folks as he checked their I.D.s and made the environment feel very lighthearted and safe. Everyone trusted him and felt safe around him – emotionally and physically.

    I think the above listed ingredients that my former colleague possessed illustrate a very high level of emotional intelligence that would be useful in any work or social setting, not just a bar.

  4. One of the most emotionally intelligent people that I know was my father. He was always calm and collective and I have only heard him raise his voice once. He was so calm that I never got a whipping from him and I have never seen him whipped any of my siblings either.
    I always admired his demeanor and the respect that the entire community bestowed on him. He was reverred in such a way that whenever there was a conflict in any families in the district everyone would come to “Uncle James”, as he was called by many to get his support in resolving their issues. As I grew older, sometimes I was jealous of the constant invasion because I thought they were robbing us of valuable time with our dad and most importantly taking away finances that we need as he was always giving away money and goods. Over the years I realized my father did it all because that was his purpose on this earth; to help those who were in need most.

  5. I think the most emotionally intelligent person I know would probably be my father in law. He is a retired detective and currently is the bishop of Zion Way of The Cross Ministries. I notice that in the time of conflict he remains calm, I have never seen him react in anyway that would harm others or himself. He doesn’t raise his voice- very monotone, very stern, but to me I see him thinking out what should be done first. I notice he always think of a plan before speaking, he observes the situation and the act peacefully as possible. He is a natural mediator that people turn to for help in our family, church and most of all his community. I admire him for how he controls and monitor his emotions in the manner that he does it. He is the person that everyone calls for advice, spiritual guidance and counseling.

  6. One of the most emotionally intelligent person I know is my brother. He is 18 months younger than me, but is very wise for his age. When he was younger he always would be the person who would like to talk things out. Wanted to know the why and possible outcomes to all scenarios. I really look up to my younger brother because he try’s to fing the good or a good outcome to all situations. At the end of the day all parties have to be happy and willing to try the possible solutions. This task is something that has to be practiced routinely.
    My brother is my emotional intelligent hero!

  7. The founder of One Common Unity, HawaH, is probably the most emotionally intelligent people that I know. When a conflict arises, he pulls involved parties together, helps them agree upon rules of engagement, speaks in a very calming voice, actively listens to all involved parties, takes no sides, and facilitates discussion so that each person owns their feelings as they explain their position (thoughts, attitudes, and actions). I have actually watched young people walk away with more joint responsibility (in a project) than before the conflict.

  8. I’m thinking of a cousin who is very emotionally intelligent. I spent a lot of time with her while growing up and I see that she’s developed emotional intelligence over time. She is a school psychologist and she studied psychology. I noticed that through her studies she learned to reflect back what people are saying in conversation. She often does this with me. She does it in a way that seems natural and I find that I feel heard. She has a good sense of humor and I’ve noticed she uses this to lighten up situations when she and her husband are coming at something from different angles and need to find a middle ground. I went through a rather difficult time a couple of years ago and she was a strong support to me. She didn’t try to sugar-coat my situation. She asked good questions and helped me figure out what to do.

  9. My good friend Marla, whom I met during my freshman year of undergrad in 1999 is one of the most emotionally intelligent person I know. She is always an active listener when dialoging with others and particularly during conflict. She doesn’t produce responses quickly, but rather allows herself think time before expressing her thoughts. I have also noticed that she asks a great deal of questions when she disagrees with someone in order to better understand their vantage point and doesnt judge theur perception if it differs from her own. She is good at dissecting facial cues and is able to empathize seemlessly. What puzzles me, a more reactive person by nature is that she doesnt seem to do this as the result of conditioning but rather innately. I have to work rather hard to address and manage how I feel.

  10. I have never known this particular friend of mine to have lost her cool. We worked together leading after school programming in a Boston Public Middle School a number of years ago, and as frustrating as managing that age group can be, or however sleep-deprived or stressed, she was always cool, firm, friendly. Last year she was dealing with personal crisis, and she did so with grace — she possesses a lot of clarity whereas my experience of my emotions are cloudy. I think she thinks through her thoughts and journals before she attempts to articulate how she is feeling and what she is needing. I really admire her emotional maturity.

  11. The most emotionally intelligent person that I know is my friend, Lindsay. I think she is emotionally intelligent because she shows her emotions, reacts to her emotions appropriately, and demonstrates empathy in times of conflict. For example, when she is sad or unhappy, Lindsay will reach out to me and we’ll discuss her feelings. She tries to understand why she is feeling sad/unhappy and makes a plan to fix the problem she has identified. When she is frustrated and angry, she is assertive and asks questions to better understand the other person’s point of view. I have never seen Lindsay get into a fight with someone because she is able to use her emotional intelligence to handle her conflicts.

  12. One of the most highly emotionally intelligent human I know is my god father Todd Amis. He is a homicide police detective which naturally makes him calm and very intelligent. I’ve known this man for most of my life and I can’t count the time he lost his cool. He is naturally a problem solver and a train listener. How he interacts with people is simply amazing. He has been a football coach here in the DMV for over twenty years Also a loving husband for over twenty years. He vision has been, he rather help the inner city youth out by coaching and mentoring them, than to see them died or locked up. He is one reason why I give back to my community and why I decided to go into the education field. He’s a man with class and integrity. He’s a great communicator that always keep his cool and controls his emotions. Many people that know him, respect, admire, and tries to mimic the man that he is.

  13. I had a friend in graduate school that taught me a lot about emotional awareness. In his past he had overcome several struggles that made him into quite the emotionally intelligent friend. It seemed that through his struggles he had learned how to cope with different emotions and different scenarios. Specifically, he never showed too much anger or frustration. Instead, he communicated how he felt, had reasons for his feelings, and challenged people to analyze the reasons for their own feelings. This quite confidence, and willingness to listen if not always agree, was an excellent picture of emotional maturity, and in my view, emotional intelligence.

  14. My dad is by far the most emotionally intelligent and stable person I know. The main thing he does when conflict arises is to stay calm. By keeping himself calm, he can analyze any situation without the distraction of intense emotions blinding him. He tries to be diplomatic and analyze the situation before delivering his response. However, this takes him all of a half a second; it’s nearly incomprehensible. My dad has been through a lot in his life and has learned how to be emotionally intelligent, I’m assuming, by trial and error. After everything, he works hard to create a stable life for himself and his family, and though we are an impassioned group, we are a healthy group.

  15. Hands down, my mom’s emotional intelligence is beyond evident. Oddly enough, my mother had me read emotional intelligence as a child. Regardless, her emotional intelligence is evident due to her ability to ask direct questions to identify someone’s emotion, and then move forward by empowering the individual to identify and express and then move to a solvency based discussion. These tactics is what enables her to make conversation that are often times difficult by breaking them down into relatable chunks. When conflicts arise, my mom focuses on hearing someone’s emotions and then discussing her feelings and perspectives. Within this, she creates an equal footing and discussion platform for both individuals. This promotes safety for each actor, as well as builds trust, insofar as the individual that she is discussing with feels as though she cares just as much about their feelings, as she does the solution.

  16. Daniel Knoll – To be honest, I had a difficult time thinking of a friend that has high emotional intelligence. As a college student, most of my close friends are pretty bad at understanding or demonstrating their emotions, and we are each still figuring out how we best express our emotions. The person in my life that I think best represents emotional intelligence is my older brother. I think he is a very rational and logical person, and he is not quick to speak before he’s done his research. Growing up it took him a while to mature, and he is definitely still silly, but he takes the time to understand both people and the various perspectives of an argument. When ever I’ve heard him talk about an issue he has with someone else, he always shares his understanding of the issue from their side and gives merit to their argument / perspective. Also, I’ve only ever seen him ‘flip out’ once, and that was on his wedding day when it looked like none of the guests were going to be able to make it to the ceremony because of a street festival that was blocking the entrance to the site – so it seemed warranted.

  17. My significant other, Nick, is by far one of the most emotionally intelligent people I know. He not only cares very much about those around him, he makes it a point to show everyone how special they are. This wonderful quality does not mean that conflict does not exist in his life. Without revealing too much about his personal story, I can say that he actively utilizes what Goleman refers to as the Situation, Options, Consequences, Solutions approach to dealing with conflict. Additionally he is able to identify the origin of conflict even if it is difficult to name. Most impressively, however, is his ability to understand the difference between actions/words and the source of frustration/anger.

  18. I would say my boyfriend is emotionally intelligent. The only time he yells is when he’s watching sports. Anytime he and I have a conflict, he is very good about talking through it and identifying his feelings. (It probably also helps that he has such an emotionally intelligent girlfriend). When appropriate, he does this through writing, which I think is another way of being emotionally intelligent because it is being aware of how you best express yourself. He is also a very active listener; he makes eye contact when you speak to him and waits until you are finished speaking to respond. He handles stress very well by not taking things too seriously. If he has a bad day at work, he does not dwell on it when he leaves the office. He’s just a very generally happy-go-lucky person, and it positively influences his relationships.

  19. My dad is the first person to come to mind when I think of an emotionally intelligent person. He’s spent his career as a personal injury lawyer, so his days are filled with conflicts of which he’s not directly a part of, but which he still must navigate. (Personally, I would find this impossible so he definitely stands out for that reason too!)

    When conflicts arise, my dad very judiciously gathers all information first, in order to make an informed decision eventually. He deliberates the merits of different sides and takes into account biases that are present, as well as the moral implication of whatever he decides might be the conflict’s outcome. He is at once humble and thoughtful, but also principled and fair, which I think demonstrate a high level of emotional intelligence. Beyond how these qualities are manifested in his profession, my dad is such an even-tempered, kind and calm individual that my whole family often looks to him for reassurance and guidance.

  20. One of the most emotionally intelligent people I know is my aunt. She is the most reflective and calm person I know and helps others to be the same. She has two adopted children who came over from Russia at ages 6 and 7 and were the biggest handful I’ve ever witnessed. Not only did they not speak English at first, but they had more energy than any child I’ve ever seen and were so overwhelmed with the new environment. I think that any other person would have easily broken down and not been able to deal with it all, but my aunt was and continues to be very soothing and helps them calm down and think about what they’re doing.

    I remember one day while I was staying at their house, my cousin (who was a teenager at the time) was jumping up and down in anger, throwing things and screaming at the top of his lungs as my aunt just calmly sat on the couch without raising her voice or even moving and just kept repeating that she would love to discuss the issue when he was ready to join her. I had to laugh at the scene that was unfolding in front of me, and eventually so did my cousin- after he calmed down, left the house for an hour, and returned. She never pushes but can sense when there might be an opportunity to talk about their feelings with them and is amazing at resolving issues with her children by setting an example for them.

  21. The most emotionally intelligent person I know is my wife of 40 years. I have observed how she has managed “conflicts” within, across and outside of our immediate family. She is a natural mediator, listens intensely, and is herself willing to try approaches which she may not have instinctively taken in the first instance. While not a direct observer, I know (because she has shared ) that she has employed these skills in the workplace in her own firm, and at the National Academies. What I think is her most remarkable skills is empathy. She has always been driven by a social justice agenda, and in her early career, taught school in the inner city of Cleveland. She has taken this empathy to managing the kind of family disputes that arise among children, and even with me. Her emotional intelligence is based on listening, empathy, and considering/offering options. She is hardly judgmental but always principled.

  22. Maria–
    My dad is one of the people I admire for being truly emotionally intelligent. Though many times we get frustrated with each other because we are different/alike in so many ways, he is the most patient person I know, who never speaks without knowing the exact words he’s going to use to resolve a conflict, share his opinion or say how he feels. I am reminded of the red, yellow, green light activity that we read about when I think of my dad and how he reacts to situations around him. He has a very rational way of dealing with things, that is similar to the exercise, sharing, feelings, goals and then acting.

  23. A friend of mine, Ellie is highly emotionally intelligent. There were many times last year when I observed her ability to stay cool in a stressful situation. I have seen many people lash out and blame other when things go poorly, but Ellie works hard to monitor her own behavior and make others feel respected, listened to, and valued. While she does a great job of connecting with others and maintaining peace, sometimes I think she does so at the expense of her own well-being. She worries about others and is always available when a friend is in need, which means that she will neglect herself in order to care for others. Mostly, I have noticed how much time she spends practicing conflict resolution techniques and I wonder if it is possible to be an effective AND efficient peacemaker.

  24. My friend Katy is a highly emotionally intelligent person. In fact, we often talk about being “high self-monitors,” wherein we discuss how our actions may affect others and how we can mitigate negative reactions based on how we behave. She has demonstrated this to me innumerable time in the everyday navigation of relationships in her life. She is quick to observe, not blame, she reacts honestly but with perspective about her role. She is open to discuss and resolve with individuals. She identifies patterns in her own behavior and works hard to avoid the triggers.

  25. I have always admired how my father manages his emotions and handles relationships. I have never once heard him raise his voice or swear. Instead he is always calm, self-controlled, and thoughtful when interacting during a conflict situation. When we have had disagreements in the past he is careful to use “I” statements, and preface his explanation with reassurance that this dialogue is stemming from his love and concern for me as his child. When I have lashed out and said something disrespectful or hurtful, I have watched as he takes a deep breathe and takes a moment to consider the best response. He considers what he will say, and pays special attention to the tone in which he says things. When in a conflict situation, he allowed me to explain my feelings and actively listened, giving affirmation for my feelings and providing reflective feedback. At the end of a disagreement, he makes sure to give me a hug, reaffirm his love, and tell me that he is available to talk again. His calm and collected mannerisms and verbal tone automatically alleviate hostility and anger and promote a sense of cooperation and understanding.

  26. One of my colleagues comes to mind as very emotionally intelligent and I’ve seen this manifest in his interactions with students, facilitating interactions between students, and in interacting with our other colleagues. My school has a leadership team, comprised of about 15 people, that meet weekly during the school year and extensively during the summer to work out our school improvement plan and tackle issues as they come up. It has definitely worked out that this team is made up of our most vocal staff members and my colleague does a fantastic job of resolving conflicts that inevitably arise. He does a fantastic job of listening attentively to whoever is speaking – I’ve seen this in his interactions with his students too – and people feel as though he genuinely cares about what is being said. He also encourages and models the use of “I statements”, which I’ve seen are necessary with both students and adults.

    I observed him a lot with his students during my first year teaching. While I was in survival mode and could not begin to process how to allow conflicts to arise in my classroom, I tried to just suppress them and move on. I would see him in the hallway with students mediating a conversation about a conflict, similar to the teacher in the puzzle activity that Goleman described. Students would leave from his classroom with a real sense of how they were feeling, why they were feeling that way, and with options (besides fighting) for how to handle disagreements. A lot of what I saw him do my first year I now do with my students.

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