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Learning from the Past vs. Allowing it to Control You
In our line of work, it's all too easy to let your bad experiences inform your present and future experiences. That is especially true if you have a high emotional range. Having “emotional range” is a polite way of saying that you're a bit up and down (maybe even neurotic).
We don’t believe that sensitivity is a weakness or something that should be judged. In fact, being in tune with your senses and emotions can give you an advantage in almost any career. However, having a high emotional range can also make it easier for you to feel annoyed with your work, avoid people you don’t like working with, and take criticism personally. It's easy to let your past frustrations and failures seep into your decision-making skills and outlook on work.
The key to keeping the past from getting in the way is to manage your emotional range. It takes a lot of practice, self-awareness, and patience, and it can be a frustrating process in its own right. Nevertheless, we’ve put together a few things you can do to turn your emotional range into an asset in your HVAC career.
Recognize your emotional responses
People with a high emotional range have strong emotional reactions to the people and things in their environment. Of course, not everybody responds the same way. Some people become visibly bothered and may handle parts more roughly or unknowingly slam doors. Other people may hold their feelings deep inside and become more sluggish as their emotions weigh them down over time.
There are plenty of other reactions, and all are valid. Still, you have to recognize how you respond to your environment before learning how to manage your emotional range.
For example, you can place customers or coworkers into categories of people you wouldn’t want to work with in the future. There are benefits and drawbacks to this type of emotional reaction. While you develop a strong sense of what you like and dislike, you also create new “walls” and start to feel exceedingly unwilling to do specific jobs or work with certain people. That's just one way that the past can impede your job performance and satisfaction.
You may make money from all of the jobs you perform for those problematic customers, but the frustration and difficulty no longer seem worth it.
There has to be a healthier way to approach these difficult people and situations. While work is a necessary part of life, its emotional impact on you should not be so strong that it interferes with your relationships, personal life, and overall well-being.
Look for opportunities without judging motives
It’s natural to approach potentially unpleasant work situations and social interactions with your guard up, especially if a coworker or client has been problematic before. You don’t want them to tear you down. Nobody does. So, it's normal to judge others’ motives so you can prepare for their worst and protect yourself.
When you work with a hypercritical coworker, you may think, “How is he going to nitpick my work this time?” Or, you may drive up to a difficult customer’s house or business and think, “I hope she doesn’t blame me for something that’s not my fault again—then complain about the prices being too high.” When you already have possible outcomes in mind, it may seem easier for you to numb yourself to them, at least on the surface.
But does that really put you at ease?
No, it just has you in fight mode before you even get started.
This piece of advice is MUCH easier said than done, but hear me out: you can approach each situation and look for opportunities to make it a win-win situation.
The key is to look for opportunities for growth or learning and decide beforehand that you will focus on the result, doing your best to ignore the noise that distracts you from your mission.
Acknowledge that criticism may hurt, and that’s okay
Criticism is a part of any career field, but it’s especially prevalent in HVAC and construction. So many elements of our work are open to criticism: craftsmanship, efficiency, precision, customer service skills, and so on.
Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, the criticism will probably sting at least a little bit. Some people may want to hide, and many more will want to defend themselves.
Regardless of how you respond, there’s a near-100% chance that your reaction won’t change the critic’s mind. No matter how hard you fight back or how gracefully you take the criticism, the critic has their opinion and probably doesn’t care about your point of view very much.
You can’t convince people that you’re something different than they think you are. That may sound a bit depressing on the surface, but it can also be a freeing sentiment. In the end, you’re not totally responsible for other people’s opinions of you. When you let go of the need to protect your image and ego, you can be fully present to help and support others who will value what you bring to the table. Then, you can view everything as an opportunity to learn.
Release your worries about the past and future outcomes
I know, I know. This piece of advice may seem about as useful as telling a clinically depressed person to stop feeling sad.
The entire process of releasing your worries doesn’t happen overnight. It also doesn’t happen just because you may tell yourself, “Stop worrying about what this person will say to me.” It’s gradual, and it takes some self-reflection and acknowledgment of what’s in your control and beyond it.
Instead, you might consider entertaining the possibility that the people who hurt you in the past were in a lot of pain themselves. People who are in emotional pain sometimes look for outlets for their pent-up frustration and aggression.
Let’s say that a customer’s EC motor failed. They have an old A/C unit that doesn’t have replaceable parts readily available, and they’ve been roasting like a rotisserie chicken in their house for a couple of days. When you finally get there, they lash out at you because you don’t have a suitable fan motor replacement.
Does it feel bad? Probably. But was any of that your fault? No!
The verbal abuse was completely unwarranted, and it’s a shame that it happened. However, that customer wasn’t actually fed up with a problem you caused. It may not feel good that they took out their frustrations on you, but you might feel some peace in knowing that the outburst was their problem. You couldn’t have done anything in your power to stop it.
Should you ever work with that customer again, you might be able to empathize with their first situation and offer support if they need it the second time. If they’re still nasty, you can dismiss their negativity as their problem and not yours.
Accept that we’re all a little crazy
Nobody really wants to deal with “crazy” customers. Working with a “crazy” coworker might also sound interesting at first, but their recklessness, obnoxiousness, or other glaring flaws will start to bother you after some time.
So, how do we avoid crazy people?
We CAN’T avoid crazy people. We are ALL crazy people!
That’s right. Each person reading this has their own brand of crazy. Somewhere, somehow, somebody will find every single one of us difficult to work with for some reason. We will probably feel the same way about everyone else out there.
That seems like another grim acknowledgment, but it can truly help us work with our difficult coworkers and customers. If you can acknowledge a person’s difficulties and “nuttiness,” you can navigate their personality and help both of you find a win-win situation. You don’t judge their motives. You don’t judge where they’re going or what they might do. All you can do is try your best to find something that works for both of you.
We hope that these tips will help you look beyond those painful past experiences. You may even become a better, more productive HVAC technician. Most of all, we hope you can feel happier and less stressed by the crazy people at work.
Great article, Emily. Self awareness is a critical component of EQ (emotional intelligence) growth. Unfortunately, it’s probably the one we neglect the most. I love the comment that “we are all a little crazy” in our own way. Maybe not an easy thing to hear but knowing what your crazy is can be a huge help when interacting with others, especially in difficult situations.