Be aware of your emotional wake

Fierce ConversationsRecently I enjoyed an afternoon interviewing and filming Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations. She had several important stories and lessons that stick with me today but in particular her awareness of “emotional wake” was poignant. Your emotional wake is the psychological ripples you leave which imprint every interaction and relationship, and can have relationship effects far into the future.

For example, Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks once told me a story of a mentor he had long ago when in the furniture business. Howard said he always loved furniture architecture and construction and greatly enjoyed helping people choose furniture and design living spaces. His boss and mentor at the time once asked him, “Howard, is it furniture or people that you love?” He had always thought it was the furniture, but in that moment he understood it was really his love of sharing his knowledge and appreciation of furniture with other people. That small question and interaction guided a lifetime of choices and understanding for him.

Most often we aren’t even aware of the lasting impact small behaviors or comments can have. Recently I was traveling on business in Seattle and staying with an old close friend Jason and his wife and family. I called my wife to say our friends are happy and well with their beautiful daughters and she told me a detailed story of how she always had such a wonderful impression of Jason because of a time almost twenty years ago when he went out of his way to make her feel welcome and invited among a strange and new group of people. Jason has no recollection of this whatsoever – but his kindness for fifteen minutes twenty years ago is the reason my wife has the lasting impression that he is a fantastic person. And she hasn’t even seen him in almost ten years.

This is how powerful your emotional wake can be. And it isn’t confined to direct interactions – see Tim Sanders on the lasting negative impact of copying an email over someone’s head.