Emotional Cost

“It’s not all about you.”

How many times have we heard this said by someone who needed us to focus on them? And how many times have we superficially agreed … but didn’t really do it?

Emotional cost is the side-effect of an act or omission, and, often times it is the result of being out of integrity. The result of emotional cost is measured in the damage to a relationship and the hit your reputation takes, turning from asset to casualty. Trust is lowered and anxiety increases ten-fold because you’ve not done what you’ve said you’d do.

What begins as a small pebble tripping downhill explodes into an avalanche if we don’t control it and mitigate the consequences.

Here’s a great story illustrating emotional cost:

There was once a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him to hammer a nail in the back fence every time he lost control. The first day the boy drove 37 nails into the fence. Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered that it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. His father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the boy was finally able to tell his father that the nails were all gone. The father led his son to the fence. “You have done well, but look at the holes in the fence,” he said. “When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like the nail holes. You can put a knife in a person and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry,’ the wound is still there. A verbal wound is just
as bad as a physical one.”

–Author Unknown

The nail holes in the fence represent the damage emotional cost causes that never entirely goes away in the eyes of our customers.

We are, ultimately, in control of our own reputations. If you are often late, are a poor communicator, or seen as irresponsible you have carved that reputation out for yourself. You have cast yourself in the role of the “default antagonist,” someone customers will automatically see as their adversary or opponent. Once you become the default antagonist, your clients will begin to see you as the

cause of every problem they encounter and, from then on, every problem will be a crisis due to the anxiety created by the previous encounter.

Imagine that you have a report due for your boss and she really needs it on Wednesday by 9 AM. You’ve promised to get it to her by then but you’ve just been chosen to attend an important company event, leaving you no time to deliver the report by the agreed upon deadline. You figure you’ll get it to her when you can and happily go off to the event.

Delivering the report late resolves the original request but does nothing to deal with the emotional cost. There is still a hole — an incompleteness — in your relationship with your boss that must be dealt with because the report was late.

The problem is that your apathy about your boss’s needs has imposed an emotional cost on her. Not only have you failed to let her know about the delay, your failure has put her in a bad position with the customer needing the information.

If you want to have a healthy relationship with the person upon whom you’ve imposed an emotional cost, you MUST own the emotional cost and get in touch with the customer waiting for the data in order to make it right for all of you.

Here are three ways to control emotional cost:

  • Awareness – Think about how emotional cost can happen whether it’s out of anger, delay or apathy and take steps to circumvent or minimize it.
  • Strategic avoidance – Choose to disengage. That means if you find yourself in a grumpy mood and about to pass it on to someone else, tell that person you’re not in the best frame of mind and ask if you may talk with them another time. Never use an excuse – that makes the person about to receive the emotional cost have to understand. It’s not their job to understand; it is your job to acknowledge and apologize.
  • Clean it up – Make it right for everyone involved whether they’re coworkers or customers.

Eliminating emotional cost isn’t just controlling a chain of events nor is it lip service about understanding another’s predicament. We must acknowledge the impact and clean it up. Apologize? Sure, but an apology is useless if you haven’t first acknowledged the impact and offered to make it right.


© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.

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