My Struggle with Emotional Intelligence (or How to Survive Your Next Airport Experience)
by Stephen Ingalls, President & CEO
My job affords me the opportunity to travel around the country. Yes, I said opportunity as I consistently find myself reflecting on the beauty and diversity of our Nation’s people and landscape. Enjoying those blessing, however, requires I negotiate myriad airports in order to get me from my home in Eastern Kansas to wherever the work may be. Enter airports and my frequent experiences with what could only be categorized as blanket “cluelessness.” Let’s start in the long-term parking lot.
There appears to be a mysterious magnetic force at work, preventing even the most talented drivers from parking straight in the spaces provided. Vehicles are inevitably oriented in some cattywampus position in each space, inviting door dings or near requirement for “jaws of life” extraction in order to get out after parking. Finally exiting the vehicle, I make my way to the bus shack (#6 is near where I always park) to await the blue bus to Terminal B. As the bus arrives to transport me to the terminal, the doors open, and there’s generally someone who doesn’t get the need to get off before I get on. Inevitably, there’s also someone who’s almost always laid their bag flat (occupying more space in the luggage rack than required), or who is standing in front of the luggage rack, blocking those getting on and off from their suitcases. I get on, store or hold my suitcase, and find a seat.
Arriving at the terminal, what’s with those cars who park in the “bus only-no parking” areas to retrieve their loved ones? Can’t they read? We stop. I make it safely to the curb and start the migration toward Delta’s ticket counter (my frequent flyer provider and no, they haven’t paid me a product placement fee).
In line, it seems I’m always behind someone who is mystified sufficiently by air travel that they require a primer on how to acquire a boarding pass, check luggage, and find the departure gate. Where that isn’t the case, it’s someone who just emerged from the backwoods and hasn’t seen humans in several months. I don’t think the ticket agent cares about who’s going to pick you up when you land at your destination. Move along. Finally, making my way to the counter, I expeditiously show my boarding pass and ID, surrender my luggage, retrieve my baggage claim, am thanked for my frequent flyer status, advised of my gate, and leave. That’s how you do it America…45 seconds or less.
Hey, TSA – do you really need to shout instructions non-stop at the top of your lungs about my laptop, shoes, belt, carry-on fluids, etc? Come on. The last time someone talked to me like that, I was in the 3rd grade and late coming in from recess. Security check negotiated. Check and check.
I find a seat near my departure gate, pull out my iPhone, and do as much business as possible until the gate agent starts announcing instructions for my flight’s boarding. Now…here’s another mystery as rich as any I’ve experienced since converting to Catholicism. Why do the humans in Zone 14 move to the gate area and block access for those boarding before them? Next time you’re in an airport, take a look. You’ll see what I mean.
Negotiating the human gauntlet and now boarded, I again pull out my iPhone and get situated for a flight’s-long marathon of productivity. As a rule-follower, I promptly put my phone in airplane mode when the forward boarding door is closed, only to sit momentarily and inventory those around me who are so important that the World requires their sustained connectivity, regardless of what the FAA says about it. Fortunate many times to sit near the front of the airplane, I order a drink and settle down before departure. Next comes my favorite part.
After takeoff, and now climbing through 10,000 feet, the welcome “two gongs” sound means that I can recline my seat-back and get my computer out, not necessarily in that order. It would be so much easier if the folks in front of me didn’t fully recline themselves into my lap. AAAAAHHH! I reach up, rotate the vent to full open, direct it toward the top of their heads, and turn on the reading lamp. If I can’t relax, neither will they.
The reverse sequence begins as we initiate our descent into whatever corner of the country is our destination: seat backs in front of me don’t go up until prompted by a flight attendant, everyone behind me on the plane is much more important and needs to deplane ahead of everyone in front of them, humans walking at a decent pace in front of me toward baggage claim stop every 10-15 feet for no reason whatsoever, requiring a dramatic veer left and right like a pinball, and those folks that stood blocking the gate at departure? They’re standing in front of me at baggage claim when my bags come out, requiring I wait another five minutes for them to come around again.
I get to my destination, link up with my colleagues, do the good work we traveled to do, and repeat the process going home. Seldom do any of the inconveniences highlighted above enter my consciousness any more, and my life is no worse for those frustrations.
As a disciple of emotional intelligence and recovering jerk, here’s what I know (and should have practiced):
- My car is just as crooked in the parking space, even when not forced into that position by an adjacent vehicle I’m hoping to avoid (self-awareness).
- At least someone on the bus may have a physical infirmity that affects their ability to “hoss” those heavy pieces of luggage around. They did the best they could, and since I’m blessed with better health, perhaps I should just negotiate the circumstances I encounter and use my physical and emotional talents to work around those things I might otherwise find frustrating (social awareness, self-awareness, and self-management).
- Those travelers who seem bewildered by commercial travel may, indeed, be confused or anxious. Perhaps, rather than my disdain, I could be helpful and contribute to improving their day (social awareness and relationship management).
- While the ticket agent may not be interested in who’s picking you up, they have likely experienced any number of insolent to hostile travelers who view them no more than a means to an end. The person who takes a few moments to actually speak to them like a human are balancing their experiences, making them more likely to take care of me more positively when I finally get to the counter (social awareness and relationship management).
- If I’d taken a few moments to look at some of the posters as I approached the security checkpoint, I’d have noticed the number of firearms, knives, and other prohibited items our TSA agents prevented from getting aboard my aircraft. You have to admit – that’s a good thing (self-awareness and social awareness).
- Those folks who block the gate, at least some of them, may have something in their carry-on bags (e.g. prescription medications) that they simply can’t afford to have to check should the overhead bins become full (social awareness).
All told, practicing emotional intelligence in what LGL Leadership refers to as the “7-11 practice field” lowers my blood pressure and helps enhance the experiences of those around me. Remember that point about not remembering the myriad infractions? I don’t, but I’ll bet you remember helping someone by changing your approach (more positively) when in public.
Now, I’ll have to admit that I still don’t understand why folks insist on making telephone calls, texting, and updating their Facebook status after instructed to knock it off, nor do I have much patience for those who recline into my lap, but we’ll have to leave dealing with that more productively for my next trip. In fact, in preparation maybe I should pull out my Goleman (Dr. Daniel Goleman) and study up some more on how to practice emotional intelligence. Humans are complicated. I’m going to need it.