Stop Saying Sorry — A note to United and other Airlines.

First of all, for what happened to the dragged off passenger, you’ll likely be saying “I’m Sorry” for a long time. What you probably haven’t realized, however, is that one of the main ingredients that lead to this might have been because you have been saying sorry, or some other form of apology, for way to long.

When I went to check in for my flight this morning, I got a notification that asked me if I would be willing to take a later flight with an offer of flight credits for an “inconvenience.” I know, it’s your way of apologizing for an over-sold flight and compensating me for my trouble.

But here’s what I know. Your policy of over-booking makes you lots of money. In addition, though I can’t really verify it, it likely makes my frequent flights a bit cheaper. Assuming that you would have to charge for un-utilized seats to maintain the profit margin. I get that. It’s how the whole thing works.

The problem is, in apologizing, you are creating an adversarial relationship between me and the people responsible for getting me on the plane (gate agents etc.). When they believe they are inconveniencing the customer, and just following policy, they begin to look at me as someone they must convince to do something I don’t want. Equally, when I hear or see the words inconvenience, we’re sorry, or we “have to find x amount of people” I begin to feel like you messed up, I can’t trust you, and that I might ultimately have no choice in the matter.

From a brain perspective, both the choice placed on me and on the employee are, by design, going to trigger a threat response. I’m protecting my turf and your employee is protecting theirs (they would hate to get fired for not following policy).

But, in the midst of all of this, there is huge opportunity to use this whole situation to trigger the reward response in both me and your employee from the moment you know about an over-sold situation. In fact, I think it is something I could look forward to and your employees could celebrate.

What if, when you learn of the oversold situation, your first correspondence with me was about an opportunity? About, how we have all helped create a cost-effective flying situation and, now that we have reached capacity, a few lucky people are going to have the opportunity to make a little money, maybe even more… Roll out the oversold for what it is, a benefit, potentially, to both parties. And the first person that has a bit of flexibility to make it to the counter wins.

Personally, I’ve made money on this. A few flights home on short weekends have earned me added vacations, free business development trips to see new clients, and even tickets for friends and family on special occasions. All of these were benefits that I was not considering when someone told me that I would be compensated for my imposition. All of them are opportunities for you to change the way we view our two person relationship.

The potential for this could be a huge change in the way both the passenger and your employees view your current policies. What if this was something that people looked forward to hearing? What if, in addition to your change in tone, you put everyone that voluntarily took a bump in a drawing for more free flights, flight status for frequent flyers, or other awards that make the incentive for volunteering something people want to be the first in line to receive?

The options are endless. But it is difficult to achieve if you don’t stop saying sorry and start letting your passengers be part of the solution. Trigger the parts of our brain that make us want to be a part of your success, knowing that it ultimately helps create our own, and you might find your customers want you to be successful as much as you do.


It’s Not Just Names We Forget

We’re not very good at remembering things. Most of us forget someone’s name moments after we hear it for the first, or fourth, time. In our brains continual drive towards efficiency, it creates memory prioritization that is often not in line with what we would actually want to remember.


But names, addresses, or even someone’s birthday only cost us a little social capital. Actively forgetting important things, like our strengths, our skills, and our ability to adapt cost us a whole lot more than another awkward introduction, and they happen just as often.


If you talk with someone months after being laid off, or going through a challenging situation, they are likely to remember the pain, the anxiety, and the feelings of helplessness. When pressed, they might tell you about all the things that led to the hardship; market issues, bad bosses, or miss-steps.


What we are less likely to remember is what we did well in the midst of this struggle. What we did to get back on our feet, how well we maintained composure, or the strength we found that we didn’t know we had. Just like trying to remember someone’s name in the middle of a conversation, those things we do well become less important than the context surrounding them.


I don’t remember names because I’m too wrapped up in trying figure out what to say next, how I might look, or what this person does. We don’t remember what value we created in a challenging situation because we are too wrapped up in trying to keep our head above water, avoiding the negative people, or the mistakes we made. The brain’s natural prioritization system can cost us a lot.


To remember names, we simply make them a priority. We can ask the person about the name, the origins, or how they spell it. We can relate it to someone else we know, say it out loud three or four times, or even go so far as to write it down. If it’s important to us, if the social capital is valuable enough, we can find a way.


And so too with identifying our own strengths, skills, and abilities in the midst of struggle. When we realize the value of our confidence and the capital in our courage we can start making those things a priority. We can start being better at remembering the really important strengths that we are introducing to the world as they show themselves.


Make them a priority, find out where they came from, figure out where else you apply them, and for Pete’s sake, write them down. If you don’t remember what you did well you can’t use that ability in the future. And there’s nothing more awkward than learning the same lesson another, or four other, times again.


Why We Suck at Conflict

Most people know the “right” way to approach other people. When sitting down, with a clear head and no immediate pressure, most people can come up with a way to have a conversation or even address something tricky that will likely lead to a good outcome. On paper.

In practice, however, it’s a totally different situation. People get into arguments about the simplest of ideas and relationships are broken down over issues that should, with clearer heads, be easily reconciled.

With a little training, perhaps some suggestions from a good book, or some help from a friend, figuring out how to navigate a conflict is often not that difficult of a task. There is no shortage of good advice and scientifically backed strategies for dealing with conflict.

There is, however, a huge shortage in practice. We are so trained to avoid conflict, and to find comfort, that we ignore opportunities to get better at handling it in an effective manner. In our constant hope that we won’t have to deal with it, we miss the chance to prepare for it and perhaps become more effective at it.

The brain works very much like the muscles in your body. If you use them, build them purposely, and give them challenges on a consistent basis, they become much more flexible, strong, and able to deal with the “stress” of physical challenges.

The regions of your brain needed to effectively deal with conflict work in a similar manner. If the Lymbic System experiences healthy conflict (mutual respect, objective, and non-personal, etc.) on a consistent basis, it sort of builds the muscle in your head that says “hey, we are going to live through this so we likely don’t need to go into freak-out mode and say stupid things.” Which is a good thing to develop, cause the Lymbic system is excellent at creating the short-sighted responses that make us so bad at healthy conflict.

Simply knowing how to deal with conflict is not enough, just like knowing how to lift weights doesn’t magically make you stronger. We suck at conflict because we don’t practice. We avoid the smaller differences and are surprised when our brain does not have the built in strength to deal with the bigger issues.

If you don’t want to be bad at it, you have to practice it. The little battles, the smaller disagreements, or, if you really want to get a proper work-out, practice having a mock argument over a real issue with someone on a consistent basis. We only suck at it because we don’t do it. It’s not a lack of ability as much as a lack of effort.

Removing Uncertainty

Uncertainty is painful. When trying to reach a goal, or pursue a specific strategy, uncertainty can make us hesitate, fill us with doubt, and kill our efficiency. We all want more certainty, but we are lead to believe certainty is just something confident people have, something we need other people to provide, or simply un-available.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Certainty is not just some personality trait that only people that have been born with the right genetic pre-disposition can access. Certainty can be created, or at least built upon, over time. And, while it does take some work, infusing plans, goals, and strategies with a little more certainty can be as easy as answering a few questions.

Why is it (the plan, goal, etc) right for us? This question forces us to consider how we are going to use our unique strengths, why it is important to us, and where, specifically, we plan to go. Answering this question creates the initial confidence that we can actually do what we are setting out to do. We don’t need some outside force, simple luck, or fluke event to make it happen. It’s going to happen because we are uniquely positioned to make it happen. You can be certain of that.

Where have we done it (the thing we are trying to do) before? The second inquiry helps us find the internal resources needed to follow through because we have all the evidence we need through having done it before. Everything is harder the first time, yet when we really distill what we are actually doing, we almost never do anything completely new the first time. How have you done something similar? when have you been successful at something just like this? And how is this goal just like the others you HAVE completed? In those answers is more certainty.

What are we trying to learn? This final question can open our eyes to where we are getting better, finding successes, and growing all along the process, as opposed to only when we cross the finish line. This focus sets the stage for growth now and in the future because we are purposely identifying it, perhaps even recording it, throughout the entire process. And nothing creates certainty like evidence of progress.

Uncertainty is painful. It keeps us up at night, steals our inspiration, and negatively effects our results. But it is something we can control. In fact, if you get good at answering these questions with all your strategies, you might just find achieving that future goal is so certain you start talking like that confident person more and more every day.