United Airlines didn’t respond; they reacted
“…there are lessons we can learn from this experience.”
(United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz)
Last week I mentioned that what we do at ScreamFree is teach people how to pause, so they can respond more and react less. This is actually one of the chapters in Choose Your Own Adulthood, our new graduation gift book.
But “Respond More, React Less” is not just a lesson for young adults, it’s a vital lesson for all of us. Even corporations.
For instance, imagine if United Airlines had responded to their overbooking situation, instead of reacting. By now we’ve all at least heard about the violent way they forcibly removed a man from his seat before takeoff a couple of weeks ago. The company needed a few seats to transport a crew to another airport, to prevent against canceling flights. So, after no one offered to give up their seats (for $1,000 each), the pilot ordered them to randomly select passengers for a mandatory removal. Chaos ensued, and now United will be sued for millions in damages. But this is chump change considering their market capital lost a billion (!) dollars practically overnight. This is the price of reaction.
Imagine a different scenario instead. Instead of commanding others to do the dirty work, all the pilot had to do was get out of the cockpit and start walking up and down the aisle, explaining how they simply could not take off until 3 passengers accepted the $1,000 offer to deplane. As he calmly and clearly spoke to these folks, he could smile, even interject some humor (“Are you telling me there’s no college kids on this plane who wouldn’t die for $1,000? Well you don’t have to die—all you gotta do is sleep in a hotel tonight and eat a meal for free, and tell your family you’ll see ‘em tomorrow!”)
I like to imagine Capt. Sully (as played by Tom Hanks, of course) gently interacting up and down the aisle, letting his calming presence dictate the moment. Wouldn’t you bet the passengers would eventually feel a positive pressure to sacrifice for the common good, and capitalize on it personally?
But no, the captain reacted, demanding that randomly selected people be dragged off the plane, at the cost of billions in stock, PR, and probably personnel (like the CEO, I’m guessing).
This is one of but a million examples every day where responding would’ve worked far better than reacting. Is it easy? By no means. But it’s wise, and it’s good, and it’s absolutely worth whatever it takes to get better and better at it.
Peace begins with pause,