Have you ever watched people at the pharmacy or the bank spiral down into a self-absorbed world of their own creation? Recently in the grocery store, we observed a frantic woman demanding that a young stock clerk find beef broth for her. As the teen eager clerk got down on his hands and knees to begin the search in the shelves, this woman exclaimed to the whole store that her dinner that night would be ruined if he didn’t find beef broth in the next few minutes. This verbal outburst made the clerk even more anxious. Consequently, in his haste to satisfy her he mistakenly handed her cans of beef noodle soup. In reward for his efforts, she further exclaimed, “I can’t believe you would let the store run out of beef broth on a night when I really need it. Now I will have to drive in ridiculous traffic to get it at the next store. I’m never coming back here!” As the woman stormed out, the stricken clerk resumed his search. Almost immediately he found the cans of broth; but, offered up the cans to only our presence.
What really happened here? It was clear the woman was caught up in her own world of worry, urgency; and possibly, self regret at her own mismanagement of time. Unfortunately, the transfer of blame was apparent by accusing the clerk as ‘letting the store run out of broth’! Most of us know that a store manager or inventory supervisor is in charge of the re-stocking of an entire grocery location, not one individual clerk. And, what of the non-acknowledgement of the clerk for finally finding the correct cans of broth? This woman had already marched out of the store without giving the clerk a second chance. Shame. Have you caught yourself in a similar situation?
Let’s think about this behavior demonstration for a minute. Some would label this behavior as self-absorption, self-centeredness, lack of self-accountability, lack of impulse control, or an inflated self-entitlement level. The emotional ‘spin cycle’ was clearly under way in this event. This individual mixed together the possible fear of not making dinner perfect, the resulting response to this fear was anger, a lack of respect for the store clerk, a demand for obedience, a sense of authority, displayed a compulsive need to openly criticize, moved the blame to resolve the situation; and, demonstrated a general lack of social awareness. Essentially, this individual was hi-jacked by her emotions!
When can we step outside of our own story and acknowledge when someone is trying to help us and we’re not helping? When can we catch ourselves in the frenzy of task accomplishment and appreciate when other human beings are trying to help us achieve our needs?
Remember that emotion and mood are two different distinctions. Emotions are always bound to particular events; and, we can normally point to the event that generated it. Emotions are specific and reactive. Events precede them, such as, the dishwasher flooding, the dog tracking mud thru the house, or even the checkbook being out of balance. Everything was right with the world and then something occurs that challenges us. Moods are not specific. Normally we cannot relate them to particular events. They live in the background, like white noise. No matter where we are and no matter what we are doing, we human beings are always in a mood. Ordinarily we don’t choose or control our moods we just find ourselves in them.
Try practicing emotional intelligence. People who are conscious of their feelings and aware of the social signals of what others are trying to provide for them are superior directors of their lives. When challenged by social events or adversity they can enter into a state characterized by calmness, alertness, and focus. They are able to assimilate emotion-related feelings, understand the information of these emotions, and manage them for an optimal outcome. As documented in the four-branch model of emotional intelligence (Mayer & Salovey, 1997) the following capacities collectively describe the areas of emotional intelligence. This model includes these abilities to be practiced jointly in both personal & professional relationships:
accurately perceive emotions in oneself and others,
use emotions to facilitate thinking,
understand emotional meanings; and,
take charge of emotions.
If you find yourself caught up in the ‘spin cycle’ of an event, ask yourself:
• Are you easily irritated over customer service responses even if they are only following their company’s policies? How can you let them do their job with dignity while you achieve the outcome you want?
• When presented with adversity, can you complete your plans without unnecessary force to others?