Dottie and her blue chevy nova

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Dottie and her blue chevy nova

Dottie and Her blue Chevy Nova: A Lesson in Emotional un-Intelligence

by David Casullo author of Leading the High-Energy Culture: What the Best CEOs Do to Create an Atmosphere Where Employees Flourish

Sometimes in life, experiences that were funny or even embarrassing, upon reflection, are sources of real important lessons. 

My first job out of college was computer operations manager for a large Anheuser-Busch distribution operation in Syracuse, NY.  One of my duties daily was to bring the cash bag from the day before to the bank and deposit the money in the operating checking account.  In those days, early 80’s, there was a lot of cash collected at the point of sale from the tavern owners on the delivery routes so the bag was usually full of singles, coins, and a variety of handwritten checks.  

I always maintained a cheerful demeanor at the teller station in the bank even though it was, more often than not, a very painful experience.  As the teller would sort through the cash and coins and checks they would often take the opportunity to count and recount the contents to make sure the deposit slip accurately depicted the contents, much to the chagrin of the line of people in the queue who were waiting impatiently to conduct much simpler and quicker transactions.  I always felt the negative energy on the back of my neck from the various characters, and I suffered it.

On one particular day my vehicle was in the shop for maintenance so I had to ask my colleagues in the office if someone would be kind enough to drive me to the bank.  Dottie didn’t hesitate.  Dottie was a kind-hearted soul in every way and I felt a particular friendship with her immediately when I joined that office team.  She had a blue Chevy Nova, which was quite common in the early 80’s I learned, and off to the bank we ventured.  Surprisingly the parking spot right in front of the entry door that snowy winter day in Syracuse was open and I was delighted to hop out of her car and make the few steps to the door having escaped trudging across the ice and puddles that often spotted the parking lot during the season.

Once in the lobby I joined the queue and was a bit disappointed when I arrived at the front of the line to see the one teller who was by far the slowest and most painfully diligent of all beckoning me forward.  I cheerfully (though disingenuously) greeted her when I plopped the bulging locked deposit bag on the counter and thought to myself ‘this is going to take a while.’  Well, it did indeed.  More painful and frustrating than I had even imagined.  When she was finally finished and handed me the locked bag back with the deposit slip I turned to leave and saw an extra-long serpentine line of very unhappy customers.  Muttering to myself, I left the building where there was the blue Chevy Nova sitting right in front of the door with my lady friend at the wheel… or so I assumed.  

I trotted down the steps, threw open the passenger side door and launched the bag onto the dash rattling the windshield and jumped in.  When I shut the door I felt the need to let out my frustration in the most ungentlemanly manner, slinging expletives and expressing my strong dislike for the ineptness of the teller and the whole banking system.  Dottie was a friend and she was someone who was comfortable with a good rant, from my experience, but uncharacteristically she remained silent as my expressions crescendoed.  It was then that I suddenly began to realize something was amiss so I turned to see what was the matter with Dottie only to find a woman pinned up against the driver door window with the most surprised and confused look of horror on her face.  She was not Dottie and she seemed like the air in her lungs had left her speechless. Her eyes were wide as pie pans.  In a moment of revelation I realized I had jumped into the wrong vehicle and the woman in the driver’s seat was a stranger.  Oh the horror.  I was so instantly ashamed and distraught I could not speak and grabbed the bag from the window and threw open the door and virtually leapt out of the vehicle just in time to hear the roar of the engine as the woman hurriedly exited the parking lot.  Just as another blue Chevy Nova was entering.  It was Dottie.  She saw me standing in a state of bewilderment in front of the steps of the bank front door.  She pulled up. I got in and yelled “Where the hell have you been?!”  She said “I had to run an errand.  What’s the matter with you?”  As I began to tell the story, bewilderment turned into laughter and after a long, belly laugh together we both exclaimed, “You can’t make this up!”

So what’s the lesson here?  Well, please defer from the obvious – don’t get into the wrong vehicle any time, particularly these days, because you could be shot.  The lesson is that emotions cloud the senses.  What you see may not be what you think.  In fact, if you remain unaware, what you look at is only what you see. Anger can create rash words and decisions, frustration can prompt a severe lack of clarity in a moment of crisis.  Be aware of your emotional state and “widen the gap between stimulus and response,” as the wise guru Steven Covey wrote in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

There is a famous experiment in which the creators, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simmons, earned a Nobel prize.  The experiment is one in which a subject is shown a video of two sets of people, one wearing black and the other white, who are tossing a ball between and among each other.  The viewer is told to watch and count how many times the ball is tossed to someone in white.  The action begins and the various “players” begin walking around the scene in no particular pattern tossing a ball to each other.  There are two balls in the scene, so the focus is on the players in white, and when they are passed the ball – versus the ball being passed among the players in black.  The whole scene lasts less than 30 seconds.  At the conclusion, the subject is asked how many times the ball was tossed to someone in white.

When I first participated in this experiment, I proudly announced something like “15” as I was sure I was focused and precise with my count throughout the time period.  

Then the facilitator asked, “Did you see the gorilla?”  I thought he was joking.  “Gorilla, what are you talking about?”  Then, he replayed the video.  Sure enough, about ten seconds into the scene, a person dressed in a gorilla suit saunters out into the middle of the action, stops, looks directly into the camera, pounds his chest with both fists, and then exits, at a normal pace, stage left.  I was incredulous.  How is it that I completely missed this?

The point of the experiment is this, what we focus on, is what we see.  And emotions affect what we tend to focus on.

Emotions are factors in business.  They cannot be ignored.  But, they can be leveraged.  The science today tells us that engagement, commitment, innovation and performance are all directly affected by emotions.  At Daneli Partners we have learned how to measure emotions within organizations to help with engagement and culture proliferation with a simple survey that is very powerful; it’s called AgileBrainSM.  Let us show you, so you don’t get into the wrong vehicle thinking everything is ok while your drivers are running scared.

As the year turns over I will be blogging with more messages born of the empirical and practical evidence our work at Daneli Partners reveals.  We hope it will influence good behavior, impact engagement, culture proliferation and performance within organizations, and create civility everywhere.

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