A Lot of Hot Air

A group of swimmers in a swimming pool.

by Catherine Burdett, Senior EQ Coach, EITC

This past weekend was an extraordinary experience.  For two full days, I was able to observe people in an environment chock-a-block full of opportunities to practice emotional intelligence.

PICTURE THIS: Over “2000 athletes, coaches, parents and volunteers gathered at Calgary’s Talisman Centre to stage the Alberta Summer Swimming Association Provincial Championships, where athletes who qualified for the top 16 positions in each swim event, vie for the coveted podium placements.  Plenty of hard work, focus, persistence and dedication to earn the right to compete on this final defining weekend for the season.

At 7am on Saturday morning, the level of energy, enthusiasm and sound were already reaching extraordinary proportions.  The heat and humidity (a lot of HOT air!)  in the building rising to peak levels as a result of the multitude of bodies jammed into what seemed like an airtight building.   People scrambling to get the best seats in the house to watch and cheer their children, athletes, clubs and regions onto victory.

FREEZE FRAME:  What amazing behaviors emerge when groups of people are collectively feeling pressure for their own reasons.  Some of the more ambitious spectators worked hard to “save seats’ for viewers, not yet arrived, hoarding large areas of real estate on the benches by strategically placing coolers, towels and whatever else they could get their hands on and then pretending not to notice those in the crowd, including elderly folks seeking a place to park themselves.  Apparently, turning a blind eye and expecting someone else to give up their seat was an easier solution..  A complete lack of empathy and social responsibility at play; “clearly the rules don’t apply to me” seemed the motto in many cases.

The volunteer bleacher patrols were clearly under significant stress in trying to do their job of freeing up space to accommodate additional spectators.  When advising spectators there was no “seat saving” they received responses in harsh tones and defensive manners which further aggravated an already tough job.  It clearly impacted one of the “bleacher patrol” in a negative fashion.  One row in front of me, there was a family of 3 taking space for clearly more people.  The patrol advised the family, that there was no seat saving.  The father of the family advised that they had been in the stands for 2 hours and his wife had to use the facilities.  To which he received a highly agitated, impatient and frustrated retort, “I don’t care where she is or what your story is, there is no seat saving – didn’t you understand me?  The father then proceeded to tell him how ridiculous a request that was” to which the bleacher patrol demanded if he “wanted to take this outside?”  This dialogue went back and forth at escalating levels of anger and tone.  Wow – talk about Emotional Hijack – stress tolerance going out the window.   Both of them succumbed to behaving badly and neither of them chose to operate differently.  While at first glance, the bleacher patrol was clearly suffering from a lack of stress tolerance, flexibility and impulse control, they both contributed to the escalation due to their personal lack of self awareness and expression.  Had they both been more self aware, stopped and taken a deep breath, perhaps they could have accessed better reality testing and problem solving for a different outcome. No doubt everyone in the “combat zone” who witnessed the episode would have felt good about what happened instead of left scratching their heads and wondering what just happened? Have you ever witnessed this type of interaction? Please comment below.

One Comment

  1. A wonderful post, Catherine! Who hasn’t witnessed an interaction which was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Wouldn’t you have loved to say something like, “hey, do you realize what’s happening here? You’re feeling x and you’re feeling y and that’s why you can’t work this out. Let’s just start by acknowledging both of your feelings about this situation.” ;-)

    But that probably wouldn’t be the best away to help with the situation! ;-)

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