It was a cringe-worthy, disruptive, yet very minor event. A toddler standing in a shopping cart at a check out lane in the supermarket snatched a chocolate bar. Her mother noticed what happened and took the candy away from the kid and placed the bar back onto the display rack.
A few seconds later, the child began screaming at the top of her lungs. No matter what the mother did, the kid wouldn’t stop yelling. Soon the tot began slapping her mother. At this point, the mom began screaming at her daughter. The interaction between parent and child had gone nuclear in less than a minute.
Meantime, my place in line was directly behind the stormy confrontation. I began imagining what might be going through the toddler’s mind and the immense frustration of the mother. I observed the twenty-something cashier as he scanned the mother’s last few items and prepared to ask for payment. He was clearly uncomfortable and out of his element.
Other supermarket employees and customers either tried to ignore the cacophony or reacted in various other ways. The middle-aged woman behind me, made eye contact with me, then began laughing at the absurdity of the situation. We engaged in some quick small-talk about embarrassing situations.
Finally, another twenty-something supermarket employee approached the noisy mother and daughter. First he talked briefly with the mom, then the employee leaned over the shopping cart and interacted with the toddler. I don’t know what the young man told the little girl, but he said it softly with a wide grin on his face. Within moments, the employee and the child were making googly eyes and laughing at each other.
The mom thanked the employee, punched in the PIN for her debit card, and was soon out the door with her purchases. When my turn to check out came, the diplomatic employee was still at the counter to bag my order. He smiled and thanked me for being patient. In turn, I thanked him for his skill in handling the domestic crisis in short order.
In that span of just a few minutes, I had observed the spectrum of human emotions. There were varying degrees of emotional intelligence on display in that awkward place and time.
Emotional intelligence is the ability we have to notice, control, and process our emotions. Experts claim that emotional intelligence is an inborn characteristic, but others believe it is a skill that is learned and can be strengthened.
In 1990, researchers John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey defined emotional intelligence. “It is the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” Mayer and Salovey proposed “Four Branches of Emotional Intelligence”.
First, we recognize or perceive what is going on by paying attention to facial expressions and body language.
Second, we prioritize our own emotions to evaluate what we pay attention to and react to. How do we respond to incidents that capture our attention?
Third, we interpret possible causes of emotional responses. What might be the underlying conditions a person is experiencing when emotions are being expressed?
Fourth, we manage our emotions in some way. Do we respond inappropriately or appropriately to other people’s emotions?
These are largely unconscious responses we have when interacting with other people. Through experience and awareness, we are able to cultivate healthy control of our emotional states and how we react to outside events. How effectively we do this affects the levels of personal and professional success.
By paying closer attention to what is going on inside our heads we’re able to improve our lives with stronger relationships with folks around us. We can experience much less anger and feel more authentic happiness. Emotional Intelligence is especially useful around children. Parents can encourage more patience from themselves. This can be used to encourage children to be less rebellious and aggressive or to show shy kids how to socialize with their peers.
The range of levels of emotional intelligence were on full display among various people during the supermarket incident. The lack of it was seen and heard from the immature child. The skillful genius and mastery of emotional intelligence was present in the store clerk who dialed back the crisis.
I think it is possible to learn effective emotional intelligence. Paying attention or mindfulness to our own inner workings and how we affect others will continuously strengthen our own emotional intelligence.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes psychologist, teacher, and mediator Marshall Rosenberg. “We are dangerous when we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think, and feel.”
I’d like to know what the employee said to the little girl. Putting a damper on an out of control situation that quickly is a rare skill. He should be teaching parenting classes, or become an ambassador with the United Nations.
I would like to know, too. I tried my best to eves-drop without seeming too obvious. He just mumbled something and smiled. The kid instantly stopped screaming.