We've all experienced it.
You're enjoying a nice, peaceful drive on a sunny day. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, another car begins to tailgate you. Then, the driver flashes his lights and begins honking his horn. At the first opportunity, he overtakes you.
How do you feel now? More important, what action will you take next?
Unfortunately, most of us will handle situations like this the wrong way.
According to a study recently released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety:
Nearly 80 percent of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression, or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the past year.
"Inconsiderate driving, bad traffic, and the daily stresses of life can transform minor frustrations into dangerous road rage," said Jurek Grabowski, director of research for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly."
AAA described angry and aggressive behaviors to include purposefully tailgating, yelling or honking at another driver to show anger, and making "angry gestures." But researchers further estimate that about 8 million U.S. drivers engaged in "extreme road rage," which included purposefully ramming another vehicle or getting out of the car to confront another driver.
The fact is, even if you personally don't engage in road rage, you'll eventually come across someone who does.
How emotional intelligence can help.
Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ for short) includes the ability to understand and manage our emotions, as well as our responses to those emotions. Like any skill, you can train and sharpen it to produce desirable outcomes.
Engaging in (or responding to) road rage could quickly escalate into a situation with very dire consequences. But it's not just on the road where we're tempted to react out of emotion; we encounter similar circumstances every day in our work and personal lives. It's so easy to get caught up in the moment and say or do something we don't mean.
That single lapse of judgment can affect us for a very long time...maybe even a lifetime.
So how can you use emotional intelligence to respond to emotional incidents on the road or elsewhere? Here are some suggestions:
It's easy to get caught up in emotion if someone cuts us off or does something impolite. Before you react, force yourself to stop for a few minutes (or even seconds).
Think things through.
Once you've paused, ask yourself the following questions:
- If I retaliate, what might the other person do in response? Is it worth it?
- How would those potential results affect me (or my family) in the future?
- How does this incident fit into the big picture? Will I really care about it next week, or next year?
Put yourself in the other person's shoes.
Once we've slowed things down, it's often easier to relate to another person.
For example, we've all acted rudely at some point, whether intentionally or not. Could it be that this person is simply having a bad day? Or maybe there are extenuating circumstances: Imagine the guy that just cut you off is actually trying to rush his pregnant wife to the hospital.
By trying to see things from the other person's perspective, we acknowledge the situation is more complex than we initially thought.
(If you appreciate these tips, make sure to sign up for my free newsletter, where monthly I share advice on how to make your emotions work for instead of against you.)
Putting it into practice.
There's a lot of aggression in the world today, and it's easy to be influenced by it. When we take time to get in tune with our feelings (and those of others) and prepare ourselves for emotional situations, we take a proactive approach, instead of a reactive one.
Doing so may save your car, your career, or even your relationships.
And one day, it might just save your life.