I stood in the line at the grocery store register with afternoon tea for the children and two bunches of flowers in my arms. The fellow in front of me had placed his cans of tuna and bread in front of me as we waited for the person in front to be served. He struck up a conversation about the flowers I was buying asking who they were for and why I was giving them. In the midst of this conversation we hadn’t noticed that the person in front was finished and our groceries had merged together on the conveyor belt.
“These all yours?” snapped the checkout operator, pointing to everything on the conveyor belt to my new found friend. “No” he answered. She pointed to the dividers adjacent to the belt, “Well what do you think those are for then?” she continued in a less than friendly tone. By this stage the discussion had gained the attention of the others in the line. “It’s not that hard” she continued, “All you have to do is put them down between your groceries”. The interchange between the two of them continued with both getting more hostile, finishing with an argument over whether or not he had the store loyalty card. By the time they had finished he had stormed off and she was clearly furious.
As a psychologist I know as well as anyone that we can never pre-suppose how someone is feeling. A multitude of circumstances and reasons may have led to that staff member feeling and acting the way she did. However, with all that aside when we are at work, no matter what our role, we are engaged in a ‘performance’. Our game face needs to be on and there are times that no matter what our internal dialogue we simply need to do what is required. I’m sure her anger wasn’t anything to do with the use of the dividers, however that is where it was played out on that day. Her intention was to remind us of the helpfulness for her and us of using the dividers. Communicating that in a less hostile way would have greatly increased the likelihood of a positive exchange and achieving her desired aim. Certainly the other customer storming out of the shop was not the best outcome.
Emotional intelligence is the radar we all have to read and understand emotions, and our ability to self-regulate when we use them. Having a well developed emotional intelligence is crucial to the success of our interactions with others. The likelihood that someone will trust and engage with us is built upon interpersonal connections formed on the foundation of emotional intelligence. A starting point for us in enhancing our emotional intelligence is to be self-aware of our emotional state. Are you feeling frustrated? angry? excited? happy? Knowing our emotional tone helps us to moderate how we behave and how we interact with others. If a telephone call with a Telco has left me feeling frustrated (can you guess I’m organising NBN at the moment?!) and I check in with my emotions as I finish the call, it increases the likelihood that I won’t take that frustration out on the children when I then walk into the lounge room. Acknowledging the emotion is the starting point to managing the frustration. The emotion you don’t see controls you.
So perhaps if the check out operator had used self-awareness to acknowledge the emotion she was feeling as we passed through the register she could have (inwardly or outwardly) taken a breath, smiled and mentioned using the dividers in a way that would have got her what she wanted. Upon reflection, maybe I could have given her one of the bunches of flowers I had bought!