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People Watching: Emotional Intelligence Experiment

August 31, 2011

One strategy to increase emotional intelligence is to observe behavior in other people. I have found two places that I enjoy watching behaviors in people. One is in films and the other is at airports.

Movies and television are a good place for me to identify behaviors that I recognize in myself. It seems that behaviors are often exaggerated for effect. This helps me  identify how people react under pressure. Then I can practice identifying behavior triggers that might affect me. I notice that I get uncomfortable in awkward or tense situations. My wife can always tell if I am getting nervous. If she is holding my hand, I heat up and she has to let go. I also get fidgety and if I am watching television at home, I sometimes get up and go to the refrigerator for a drink which always elicits a laugh from her.

It seems that the place I usually feel the most uncomfortable is during sitcoms or romantic comedy’s where the guy is making a fool of himself. Hugh Grant always makes me nervous because of his halting and nervous style. His stuttering in awkward moments can have an immediate impact on me. Over the past several weeks, I have made a conscious effort to pay attention to my feelings and reactions in movies and I have become more aware of my feelings and therefore am more able to manage how I react.

Another place I like to watch people is at the airport. This is a great place to observe people under stress. Two weeks ago just after I had taken my emotional intelligence assessment, I traveled to Houston to conduct training for one of my clients. On my way home to Las Vegas, I was getting ready to board the plane. The customer service representative taking our boarding passes stopped a couple in front of me and told them that their carry-on was too large and would have to be checked. The man became irate and began shouting expletives. He said that he travels all the time with no problem carrying his bag on. He had gone into a full-blown emotional hijack. The representative was adamant that he must leave the bag at the end of the jet-way.  He continued down the jet-way swearing and proceeded to board the plane with his luggage ignoring the direction he had been given.

This couple was assigned the seat right behind me. The man was visibly upset. His wife was consoling him and I heard him say, “I have to calm down”. I was pretty disgusted with his behavior. I really wanted to tell him what I thought. Instead I  suggested that he take deep slow breaths, which is one of the best ways to regain control of emotions. Oxygen helps fight the chemicals that flood our system when “fight or flight” kicks in. The more I observe people, the more I become aware of my own feelings increasing my ability to manage my emotions.

The next opportunity I had to observe people at the airport happened last Friday.  I was boarding a plane in Chicago on my way to Jackson, Mississippi. This time I was flying Southwest where you line up by number. I was seat A36 and the person who had A35 was right in front of me. As I stood in line I was profiling the other passenger in line just to practice. Soon, a well dressed woman who I guessed was a high dominant personality got in line next to and slightly in front of me. I noticed her boarding pass said she was A39 which should be behind me. Since I am also high dominant, I wanted to tell her to take a step back to her proper place in line. Instead I decided to hold my boarding pass so that she could see it. I wanted to see what she would do. I decided that no matter how she acted, I would not respond and let it go. She never looked around to see if she was lined up in the proper order. She stood firm in her spot and as we boarded she went right ahead of me. When I told my wife about this, who is highly flexible and steady, she said that person used to be me. That was very hard for me to believe. I may have  a dominant personality, yet I thought I have been fairly aware and sensitive. Apparently not then, hopefully I am more aware now.

The last event happened Sunday on my way home from Jackson to Las Vegas. My itinerary said the flight was direct. I soon discovered we would stop in Houston and Los Angeles. I felt this was a bait and switch by the airline. When we arrived in LA, we were told that our flight was terminated and we would be rerouted on another flight three hours later. Apparently, hurricane Irene was to blame. Four people were on the original flight from Jackson. Each of us was anxious to get to Las Vegas sooner. We were told that there was a flight leaving in one hour that was full, however, we could go on standby. We arrived at the gate counter which was vacant. Soon many of the passengers that were waiting for our canceled flight begin to line up behind us. People were tense and I watched the frustration level rise from the front of the line.

A gate operator came to the counter to call for help. He said to the people on the other end of the phone he needed help because an angry mob was lined up out the door and he was afraid for his life. The women next to me who had been on the flight from Jackson, said to me that she was offended that he was saying we were an angry mob. She thought we were calm and civil. I was observing all these behaviors and I was doing a pretty good job staying relaxed and in control. I said to the woman next to me, I was sure the gate operator only said those things so he would get a more immediate response from his supervisors. I essence, he was doing us a favor. The gate operator returned to the counter as the phone rang and he repeated the dire situation imploring them to send help immediately. When he hung up, he said he did that to get their attention. The woman looked at me and smiled. As it turned out, all five of us were able to get on the earlier flight and things worked out great given the circumstances.

If you have had similar experiences becoming more aware of your behavior or the behavior of others, please share them with me. If you have had experiences with me where I have been unaware of how I impacted you, I would like to hear about it, I think.

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