It’s no secret that people are more short-tempered lately. They seem ready to pounce when the first (often slightest) thing goes wrong. To an extent, we’ve all been there. We’re rushed, we’re tired, we have certain expectations for our day. To another extent, isn’t it getting a bit out of hand?
A recent example involving my daughter brought this issue home … literally. My 17-year-old daughter is a senior in high school. She recently took a position with a restaurant that had just opened. The well-known restaurant is located in a shopping area in what I affectionately call “suburbia land” – typical three- to four-bedroom homes, manicured lawns, every available sport for the all-American family, and A+ schools. A nice place to live. Overall, not a whole lot to complain about with regard to living conditions.
Fight or Flight
Even in her very brief employ, she has come home with countless stories of the most horrific behavior. But one recent incident was worse by far, and also demonstrated the consequences of an adrenaline rush (the leader in me always searches for a learning experience). A customer was upset (really upset) that his pizza (yes – dough, sauce, and cheese) was not ready in the expected time. Everyone in the restaurant had been waiting, a seemingly normal occurrence for this new restaurant not yet quite capable of fulfilling the high demand (as in 175-pizzas-an-hour demand).
Fortunately, my daughter has emotional intelligence – she was raised that way (and has read my book One C.A.R.E. at a Time: Effective Leadership Through the Control of Emotions). With her extraordinary people skills, she was put on the frontlines of this insanely busy restaurant. But people skills can only go so far. On this particular night, a customer was irate and yelling at her with such vengeance that other customers felt the need to step in to tell him to calm down. He told the customers to “Shut the F*** up” and actually began coming across the counter at my daughter (he is really lucky I wasn’t there!). The other customers held him back, as he continued screaming and cursing at her. Management finally came up front and escorted him out of the restaurant. Sadly, this was not the first time a customer had yelled the “F word” at my daughter. However, it was the first (and I hope, only) time a customer would be physically aggressive.
My daughter shared that after the incident she went to the bathroom to catch her breath. As I explained to her, in situations where there is an adrenaline rush and you are stressed, your body has a physiological response known as “Fight or Flight.” Now, of course, this does not mean someone is actually “fighting” or “running away.” Instead, it has to do with your ability to control your emotions and respond to the situation by either facing it and managing it or freezing in fear, rendering yourself incapable of responding.
The adrenaline rush manifested itself in trembling hands and tears in her eyes. She took some deep breaths, recovered, and went right back to work. That is called “the fight,” and it can only be accomplished when the person has the emotional intelligence to distinguish between emotions and logic. She did that. She stood up against the stressful situation and then kept on working. It didn’t ruin her night. She didn’t cry for hours. She gave herself a minute to check her emotions and then moved on. My favorite comment from her was, “I wanted to ask him if he felt better yelling at a 17-year-old making $7 an hour?”
Leadership of Life
Theoretically (and, we would hope, realistically), parents or guardians are the leaders responsible for guiding children and adolescents. But unfortunately, that is not always the reality. What my daughter had experienced was a lack of empathy and a very short fuse. Through his rage (again, over a pizza), he could not empathize with my daughter or the fact that it was not her fault. I couldn’t help but think – if he has children, this is the behavior they are learning. He is their leader in life, and he should remember that far better than he did that evening.
There arguably is no greater leadership than the leadership of life, including parenting. My husband and I have raised our children to have emotional intelligence, and we are always as honest as we can be with them. Growing up with your parents in law enforcement offers a unique perspective of life. They understand the world can be cruel and challenging, but that we still maintain a positive outlook as we serve others.
Unfortunately, some adults in this world can severely impact a young life by their behavior. I am not a helicopter parent, but after hearing these stories, there is nothing I wanted more than to go sit at that restaurant and take out the next person who yells the “F word” at my daughter! But then, as always, I would try to remember empathy and my responsibility as a leader, even though my natural instinct would be to protect my child.
So, where is the Empathy?
How have we gotten to the point that, at the drop of a hat or the delay of a pizza, people are allowed to curse and scream at a teenager, or any worker, for that matter, just doing their job. We see this situation play out in little leagues and school sports as well, with parents yelling at coaches and referees. Screaming, profanities, and even physical aggression because they did not get what they wanted when they wanted it. Is this what we are all about now? What message are we sending the next generation? It would seem we are telling them that if things do not go your way, you are allowed to have a temper tantrum.
When we lose control of our emotions, we lack empathy. Empathy mandates that even if someone is justifiably “upset” in one particular moment, it is no excuse to lash out at the other person. While we normally value authenticity, authenticity about your lack of emotional intelligence is simply not the same. There is so much more to it, such as the responsibility to have human decency and to show respect.
We need to take a deep breath and understand that we all need to use empathy and logic, and C.A.R.E.about the person with whom we are dealing. You can be upset – that’s a normal response, but what you do with it will make all the difference.
Time to Check Ourselves
Leadership is not just at work, although we see this situation in the workforce as well. Leaders who forget their responsibilities to their teams and simply make demands based on their own wants and needs. Leadership is also in all aspects of our lives, including with our responsibility to demonstrate what maturity and emotional intelligence looks like. Make no mistake, like so much else, this starts at home. If someone could lose his temper so easily in public, what is his home life like?
At the end of the day, we need to check ourselves and just calm down! Ask yourself:
· Do you lose your temper quickly?
· Do you think nothing of yelling at a person you feel is not giving you what you want when you want it?
· When someone behaves badly toward you, do you take a moment to empathize with them?
· Do you consider how your behaviors influence those around you?
· Can you separate emotions from logic?
· How do you manage your expectations?
I am not saying we shouldn’t get upset when being disrespected or receiving bad service and the person shows no concern (or empathy for us). It is when we show no control of our behavior when faced with adversity. Next time you want to lose your temper, ask yourself if you are “C.A.R.E.-ing” about the situation or if you are giving in to the first emotion you feel – anger? If a restaurant is having a grand opening and is very busy, maybe we should adjust our expectations for the training issues and high demand that will inevitably occur. Similarly, when we go to mail a package during the holidays, we should be prepared to stand in line. What the emotionally intelligent person does in these frustrating situations is to offer patience, support, and maybe even a kind word.
My daughter has earned herself the “To-Go Queen” title every Friday and Saturday night because she is capable of managing irate customers. I am very proud of her work ethic. I am proud of all of my children’s work ethics, and happy that my husband and I could prepare them not only to go out and successfully manage entering the work force, but to go out and successfully manage their lives.
Until next time, please take C.A.R.E. of yourself and those around you in as many ways as possible.
For more information on this topic, visit One C.A.R.E. at a Time: Effective Leadership Through the Control of Emotions or www.teresameares.com.