Friday, 26 November 2010

Taunting the tiger

In 2006 Zinedine Zidane was sent off in the 110th minute of a world cup final against Italy for head butting Marco Materazzi.  Zidane was a role model for Algerians in France and helped soften the anti-Algerian feeling widespread in France at the time.  It was Zizzie's last international match, as he had announced his retirement from the game.  France lost 5-3 and a brilliant footballing career ended in shame.

How did this happen?

Allegedly Zidane responded with anger to an allegation by Materazzi that his sister earned her living in a horizontal position.

Gamesmanship is common in sports.  Female tennis players develop a loud grunting style at Wimbledon to put opponents off their stroke.  Muhammad Ali was famous for loud and extravagant pre-fight predictions of when and how he would obliterate his opponents, calculated to intimidate them.

Zidane was targeted by someone who understood his weak spots and how to exploit them.

Daniel Goleman writes about Emotional Intelligence and illuminates my example with a quadrant:  Self, Other:  Awareness, Management.

The first challenge is to be aware of our emotional states and what contributes to them (or triggers them).  The second task if to manage our emotional states, so that we can be effective and achieve our goals in a particular situation without getting derailed by a strong emotion.

The next level involves awareness of other people's emotional states, which isn't easy.  We learn to read faces, posture, skin tone, breathing and other physical signs of emotions, as well as what people do and do not say.  Once we've identified them we can begin to manage other people's emotional states.  Our voice tone, facial expression, gestures, position in relation to others and the content of what we say can all have an influence on other people's emotional states.

In my example, Zidane was playing in a match that had big significance for him.  He'd done well up to this point and the Italians could not beat him physically, but chose to attack mentally.  Zidane was caught off guard and his anger boiled over before he realised it.   Instead of walking away, retaliating with a comment or approaching the referee, he attacked his opponent, earning him a red card.  Materazzi had a strong grasp of emotional intelligence and used it for his own benefit, but at the cost of Zidane's reputation.  A quietly delivered snide comment was like throwing a lighted match into a barrel of petrol:  it exploded.

I've coached customer service personnel who struggle to deal with irate customers by phone. It may be wearing to handle such calls many times a day, but skills in Goleman's quadrant can make the process easier and more pleasant for both parties to the call.  This becomes tougher where management set big targets and the context is debt collection.

Managers come to me with a particular weak spot that often relates to managing the performance of staff with a problem.  Crying women may put a male manager off disciplining someone for poor performance.  A drink problem may distract a manager from dealing with punctuality or sloppy record keeping.  Compassion can threaten the health and safety of colleagues in certain contexts.  In these examples awareness and management of their own emotional states is the key to progress.

Gamesmanship can be defeated, but it needs preparation and practice.  The world cup final is not the place to begin to develop emotional intelligence.

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