Heading to a meeting? Don’t forget to empty your emotional garbage bin first.
Imagine this. You have a very important meeting in the morning and you want to look your best.
You know how natty you look in that white shirt so you take the time to iron it carefully the night before, even though ironing is a chore you hate with a passion. The positive visual you've learned to project in your mind’s eye – of you being successful in the meeting – helps you get over the irritation of the ironing.
An early night is also called for, and because you hate being late, you set at least two alarm clocks.(I usually set five, seriously.)
It takes you a while to get to sleep because you keep thinking about the meeting tomorrow and how important it is – sometimes the nagging doubt voice says ‘what if..?’ and it takes all your effort to calm your thoughts and find the slumber you need. After a few false starts you finally fall asleep.
Next morning, you awake as though someone stabbed you with a fork. Your eyes pop wide open – that’s odd, the alarm hasn’t gone off yet it’s light outside, how can that be?
You strain your eyes to adjust to the light and look at your clock.
WHAT? HOW CAN IT BE 8.30? TWO ALARMS SET FOR 6.45 AND NEITHER WENT OFF?
With your heart firmly planted in the pit of your stomach, you jump out of bed. No time for a morning shower – brush your teeth at the same time as trying to put your socks on. Your partner makes you a coffee. (Your partner has fallen foul of your unique version of stressed before and so knows to stay quiet). You go to take a gulp of coffee and – who would ever have thought it – you missed your mouth. The hot coffee cascades all down the front of your crisply ironed white shirt.
Oh dear. Your already fraught morning just took an even deeper dive. And it doesn’t stop there.
You have to put on a shirt you dislike but your partner says it looks good on you. You bite your tongue and graciously say ‘thank you’ while muttering under your breath something akin to, “well, why don’t you wear the ******* thing then!”
You leave the house and forget your car keys. You go back to get them – and when you get to your car your neighbour has jammed you in behind another car. Again! How many times do you have to tell him?
Finally, after asking between gritted teeth and using your best fake smile, the neighbour has moved his car and you’re on your way – and you are frantic because you like to be early for any meeting. And especially this one. Your emotional garbage bin is almost filled to capacity. You’ve kept the lid on thus far, but it’s brimming over the edge and an eruption could happen any time now.
You arrive at work; there are no parking spaces near the front of the building. Which is why you like to get in early. You let out a stream of expletives which turn the air blue and your face red.
Looking at your phone for the time you realise you have about six minutes until the start of the meeting – another load of negative emotions is piled into the already overflowing garbage bin.
You catch a break – someone is leaving and their spot is second row. You thank the person way too enthusiastically and waste no time parking the car.
You run to the elevator and catch your second break – it’s right there and no one else gets in. Straight up to the 14th floor, no time to stop at your office on the 6th. You head directly to the meeting room because the receptionist texted you that the client is already there.
You’re walking to the meeting room as quickly as you can without making yourself out of breath whilst working on composing yourself. The meeting room is in sight. Your colleague (Andy, who you don’t like very much and is competing with you for this client’s business) sees you and says ‘Hi Chris, wow, nice shirt’.
And then the eruption happens.
Andy gets your emotional garbage bin dumped all over him. ‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN NICE SHIRT YOU ****! YOU’RE JUST TRYING TO PUT ME OFF MY GAME AREN’T YOU, EH? EH??’
Andy stares at you with a bewildered look on his face and walks off without uttering a word.
You’re left standing in front of the meeting room, you look and see that yes, the client heard that. The client also has a strange look on her face.
Later on that day as you try to deconstruct what went on (you managed to salvage the client by bluffing some excuse about your dog getting run over) you think about your outburst. Was it really about what Andy said? Would you have responded that same way if your trip into work had gone smoothly?
You ponder the event and think back to your emotional intelligence training.