Recently I read Eugene Kennedy's On Becoming A Counselor, and currently I am immersed in Jerome Groopman's How Doctors Think. Both authors make a point which I have been concurrently learning via other avenues as well: my emotional state Big Time affects how I perceive and react to life. Where "life" means any of my developers, my program managers, other testers on my team, my manager, and anyone else I happen to encounter. My application, too.

A corollary is that my emotional state is entirely under my control. (Which has a codicil that if I decide to let my emotional state be determined by anyone/thing else, I give them immense power over me.)

For example, say that on my way out of the cafeteria I suddenly remember that I left my keycard back at the dessert display. I abruptly turn to go back and retrieve it, and as I do I bump into some stranger and spill my food all over their clothing. They may become angry with me and call me a klutz. If I lob their anger back at them and angrily suggest why don't they watch where they are going, they are likely to escalate in return and before you know it we are engaged in a full scale food fight.

Or I can choose to let their anger wash over me, acknowledge that I mussed their sartorial magnificence and help them clean themselves. Wherein probably calmness returns and the food fights are left to the infants visiting Mummy and Daddy at work.

While this may seem a contrived example, I often see similar situations escalate between coworkers, friends, families, and most every other grouping of people extant in the world today. Rarely do they end well. I, at least, never used to leave one of these feeling upbeat and chipper. Rather, I generally felt angry at the other participants, and probably at the rest of the world too. This tended to influence the way I interacted with the next person, and the process snowballed on itself.

Now, however, when I am conscious and present enough to realize what is occurring, I remember that the other person's reaction is exactly that - their reaction, chosen by them for reasons only they (possibly don't) know - and has nothing to do with me. When I am able to remember this, I can preview my reaction and ensure that I am responding to the situation without (as far as I can estimate) escalating it. And lo and behold encounters which in the past likely would have become loud and noisy and maddening now tend to stay more or less civil.

I have not found this easy to do. It takes lots of practice, and while I am better than I was I am not as good as I woud like. One technique I find helpful is to assume that the other person is always meaning to be helpful, even when I don't see how that could possibly be true. Another is to visualize a shield which surrounds me and buffers me from other people's emotions and reactions. Far from preventing me from understanding how they are feeling this shield helps me identify and empathize with their apparent emotions without becoming tangled up in them.

(Yes, apparent emotions. What I perceive someone to be experiencing hasn't necessarily any relation to what they are actually experiencing. Which is a whole 'nuther blog post.)

This is working for me. How do you stay congruent?


*** Want a fun job on a great team? I need a tester! Interested? Let's talk: Michael dot J dot Hunter at microsoft dot com. Great testing and coding skills required.