Early one morning, my family and I were at the airport awaiting a vacation sorely needed by all. Spirits were high until we glanced at a congested security line. Ongoing delays left many travelers frustrated, and, when 2 of our bags were selected for additional screening, I had a nagging feeling I would soon join them.
We saw TSA agents all around us, but no one checked our bags. We waited and waited as our bags sat on the table. Doubting that the situation would resolve itself, I made polite but firm requests that an agent attend to our bags. In total, I made 4 such requests while we waited nearly 15 minutes for an agent to help us.
I was frustrated. My smile was gone, my tone was serious, and I shifted impatiently as the minutes dragged on. Finally, an agent approached. All the agents had been dealing with frustrated or angry people all morning. When he and I first made eye contact, I didn’t have high expectations for the imminent search of our bags. What we experienced next more than surprised me – I was floored.
Instead of meeting my frustration with defensiveness or reciprocating with frustration of his own, he amazed me with exceptional awareness and emotional skill. Specifically, he applied 3 concepts of EQ so fluidly that he turned a negative experience into a positive one.
- He empathized. Despite the chaos and overwhelming demands on his team, he focused exclusively on me. He could tell by my tone of voice, facial expression, and body language that I was in a hurry and frustrated. It was a pleasant surprise that he seemed to genuinely understand and care about my experience. As he opened the first bag, he smiled and said, “I’m sure you’re in a hurry. I will get you going as fast as I can.” Realizing that he cared that I was frustrated and wanted to help expedite the process had an immediate and positive impact on our interaction.
- He managed his emotions. When dealing with one frustrated customer after another, it is easy to take on some of that negative energy. This agent showed no sign of that. He continued to smile and use a friendly tone as he looked through our bags. If he had approached us in a negative way, it would have only escalated the situation. He was a model of managing his emotions rather than letting the situation get the best of him.
- He influenced my emotions. In the brief time it took him to look through our luggage, my emotions changed completely. I give all the credit to this TSA agent. His influence on my emotions started with his smile and warm tone as he greeted us and continued as he checked the bags. It was disarming because I expected a cold, mechanical approach. As he searched, he got us talking about our vacation, and everyone’s mood improved. It was a pleasant surprise that he treated us as individuals and not just one more family in a long line of frustrated travelers trying to get through security during a busy time. We headed to our gate smiling and talking about what a great agent he was. It was a much better start to our vacation than it could have been.
I go through more security lines during the year than I’d like to count. I expect delays and typically roll with them when they happen. This day was especially bad, and I allowed my frustration to get the best of me. Rather than adding fuel to that fire, this TSA agent was the perfect example of EQ in action. His empathy allowed him to effectively read the situation and respond in just the right way. His ability to manage his emotions in a chaotic situation surrounded by frustrated and even angry travelers was impressive. This TSA agent is a great example of how applying EQ can change an interaction whether at work or at home.
To learn more about emotional contagion and how you can develop your EQ, contact Heather Johnson or attend one of our in-depth workshops.