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.


Can People Change?

We don’t seem to be very good at change. We all want to, yet the majority of us run through cycles that start with big attempts, followed by doubt after a couple set-backs, then complete inaction or regression over time. This process leads some to believe change is not possible. A belief that kills dreams and stops action before it even starts.

But, what if it’s the wrong question? What if, for most of the things we are trying to do, become, or attempt, we don’t need to change at all?

Change, by definition, is to “make or become something different.” For most people, the thought of becoming different, is a deal breaker from the start. It’s scary, it seems foreign, and history does not seem to be on our side. Yet, most of the “change” I have experienced in my own life, or helped other people with in theirs, has very little to do with becoming something different.

In many cases, people aren’t changing at all, they are adapting. And adapting is something people are really good at. People adapt to changing environments, requirements, and challenges all of the time. They battle cancer, they raise kids with little or no money, they learn to thrive after horrible accidents, and they make the best of really crappy situations. Every one of us has had to adapt and every one of us has been successful at it.

The reason we do this so well at adapting is because the focus is the exact opposite of how most people view change. When you talk with someone that has had to adapt to something challenging, they often say things like, “I didn’t know I had it in me!” or “I didn’t know I could be so strong!” They say things that indicate something being drawn out of them, about finding out who they really are, and not about them being something different. The difference is form not being.

This same process happens when people adapt their current talents in new directions. A consistent smoker becomes a consistent runner because they focus on adapting there proven habit of consistency. A passionate advocate becomes a passionate salesperson because they adapt the passion they already know is available. And the most hard headed, pain in the ass employee, becomes the most dedicated and driven manager because they adapt the underlying grit in a new direction.

Can people change? Who cares? They can adapt, and we can help them do that, but only if we are willing to draw out the strengths they already have.

Can you change? Who cares? You can adapt your underlying strength, your unique genius, and your individual passions to whatever direction you want. But only if you are willing to recognize them and bring them out.

We fail at “change” so often because we continue to try be someone we aren’t instead of realizing, and drawing out, the greatness that is already within. Start focusing on what is within and you might just find outcomes that look a lot like change on the outside. Only you’ll know the secret. The greatness was there are along.

Owning Freedom

Freedom is the one thing we own as individuals. Regardless of your place in life, your social or economic status, or your political affiliation, the one thing you will always have is your freedom. Despite this simple fact, we tend to give up our freedom all the time. The one thing that cannot be taken away we give away freely, often unknowingly, and the only once affected is ourselves.

There are countless things in our society, our jobs, and our lives, that limit the choices we can make, that pluck opportunity from our grasp, or that weigh us down. But, those limitations, those lack of choices, those unfair, un-asked for, and un-just circumstances have nothing to do with our ability to be free.

Victor Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” This is the essence of what it means to be free, “to choose one’s own way,” and it is precisely what I hear people neglecting in their approach to freedom.

Every time I hear people say “I have to” in their jobs, in their plans, in their lives, you can almost feel their sense of freedom slipping away. Rather than acknowledging the challenges and the choice we make in those challenges, we act as though there is no choice. We say things like, “This is what I’m supposed to do..” or “I have no choice..” and the fragile psychological strength of free will is damaged.

Those choices, those opportunities, the potential that we make for ourselves, as individuals and as a society, are most influenced by our daily decisions to own freedom, to express our freedom, and to acknowledge it at every turn. More choices don’t give you more freedom. Owning freedom gives you more choices.

Freedom is here and now or nowhere. It is in your current decision or it is completely unavailable. We learn to have it now or we simply chase it forever, never catching it, never realizing our power to create it. That we are, always, creating it. Each time we refuse to acknowledge this, we put freedom at risk.

You do have a choice, limited or not. There is nothing you have to do, like it or not. And the only thing you are “supposed” to do is, well, nothing. “I am choosing to do something more important” gives you more freedom than the excuse of “I can’t” any day of the week. “This is what I’ve decided to make a priority” is much more empowering than “I’m supposed to” and, more than that, it’s actually true.

Owning freedom is the most simple, most important, and most impactful thing we can ever do. But it can only be done if we choose to do it now. In your current situation, in your next action, and your next response.

Expectations of Work

Forty years ago, we had expectations about work. A contract of sorts. This contract said, if I pass the test, get into the right school, get the right degree, get a good job, and work hard, I can expect to be taken care of and retire comfortably. In exchange, we accepted that we weren’t always going to love what we did, were going to have to put up with some crap, and we wouldn’t always have control over what came next.

Fast forward to today. Doing well on the test just might get you into the right college, but in terms of guarantees, that’s where it stops. The right school or even the right degree no longer guarantees a job. Working hard is still important, but does not protect you from your industry evaporating. And being taken care of, retiring comfortably, we can generally put those in the category of wishful thinking with the oft volatility of the stock market.

And here’s where the anxiety comes in. Not simply from realizing things have changed, but in not changing our approach to the change itself. Anger, frustration, anxiety and other responses take root when our expectations don’t match reality. The economy has changed but our expectations haven’t.

The average job only lasts three years but we still like to talk about choosing a “career” at the interview. You expect the job will last forever, and when it doesn’t, you get anxiety as the wonderful parting gift. You expect to be taken care of if you work hard, and when it doesn’t happen, what you reap is that feeling in the pit of your stomach. You plan for that degree to land you that awesome gig, only to angrily stare at the piece of paper on the wall that represents courses you didn’t want to take in the first place and only guaranteed you student loan debt.

These expectations not being met make us start to feel unsure about ourselves, question our own decisions, and seek to quell the feeling in the exact manner through which we created it…find another position, hope someone else with take care of that. Or get some certification or degree that we hope someone else will find value-able.

But that is a fools errand. To change the outcome, we have to change the expectation. Like any anxiety or fear, our power always rests on the other side, when we step into it, when we use it to see our true potential. We can do that in how we look for jobs, how we approach professional development, and how we become “taken care of.”

If you are looking for a job, or know you will be in the future, instead of spending time trying to figure out what others want, get to know what you are a freakin super hero at, and find the places, companies, or organizations you know will benefit from your skillset. Be one step in front, know how you can change a company, change a position, or bring value…then, when you go into the job, you expect to interview them as much as they are interviewing you.

Stop looking for the degree or certification you are “supposed” to get. Focus your professional development on what most engages you, what you are authentically curious about, or simply what you don’t have to drag yourself out of bed to learn. If you are interested in it, you are inherently going to learn things, see patterns, and see solutions that other people cannot because they simply don’t care…that interest from you is what makes the learning actually valuable.

And, as far as being “taken care of.” Know what that means. What life or lifestyle do you actually want. How much of your day or life is filled with things you are doing because that’s just what you do? Most people create lifestyles they don’t actually like, and can’t actually afford, because it was supposed to be the pay-off for having jobs that sucked. When you do things you like, you realize you don’t need nearly as much of the “stuff” you don’t, and taking care of yourself becomes much simpler.

What we fear is our own power. What scares you is that you might just be as kick-ass awesome as you think. There was a time when we could quell these fears through certainty that others provided in work we didn’t like, but that took care of us. Those days are gone.

And, if you change your expectations. Expect your job security to come from your unique talents, expect your value to come from your innate curiosity, and expect your certainty to come for the purposeful way you have designed your own life. Then you might just find that your expectations of work better match your reality.