Thursday, April 25, 2013

Do We Really Know?


Yesterday I was sitting in seat 25C of an Alaska Airlines jet mentally preparing for a few days of vacation visiting a dear friend. One of the flight attendants had caught my attention as I boarded the plane. He reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t quite place it. 

While my job doesn’t call for me to travel extensively, I would consider myself to be one that could go in the “Expert” line at security. I settled into my seat as the plane loaded and started doing my own thing. The captain’s voice filled the plane and the talking stopped while he gave his spiel. He handed off to someone else and the safety portion of the program commenced. I prepared to tune out, but the flight attendant that reminded me of someone was standing about 10 rows ahead of me. (Side note: The smirky smile and total disdain for the peasants riding in coach helped me connect which alumnus he brought to mind – one of my favorites.) I watched as the voice overhead reviewed the exit doors, the colorful brochure, the inflatable vest, etc. He had just finished waving his fingers to demonstrate our exit plan when something happened. The passengers gave up listening. Side chatter began and the volume grew to a point that I could almost not make out the directions droning on throughout the cabin. Intrigued by people in general, I watched my fella standing in the aisle as he finished his demonstration. Smirky smile in place throughout. He saw me watching and I swear I could see him
mentally roll his eyes. It was almost as if to say, “Well, the two of us listening will get out ok.” For, you see, our fellow passengers had checked out and stopped listening. They thought they knew what was being said: what the plan was in case of an emergency, what to do, how to do it and so they made assumptions and a choice to believe that what they “knew” would be applicable in the future.

Now, I am not an expert on airline safety. But I am someone who reads about, thinks about and studies the human condition. More often than not, I find myself in a place like my fellow passengers. I think I know what’s being communicated so I disengage and check out. Most of the time it works out for me. (I mean, there are only so many ways to exit a plane.) But, sometimes it does not. As I sat, watched, listened two truths came to mind.

First - when you are the giver of information, sometimes the audience doesn’t want to hear it. Our role is to press through and deliver what we know to be the important, sometimes life-saving, messages. It is ok to do it with a smirky smile, but be sure when you do so it is with the confidence that your message is what those who have entrusted you to lead them need to hear. Press through, especially if you know that what you are sharing is essential. Have humor, find joy, but deliver what needs to be shared.

Second – as those being led, we often assume we know what is being shared. We think we know, but we don’t always. We talk over those leading us with full confidence that “we’ve got this”. But, what do we miss when we approach leadership in this way? When we do this, we sometimes miss the real message. Or, sometimes just as significant, the secondary message. When not in the moment, we can also reflect that our behavior is not kind or polite. But, it is the norm. Right? I mean, why do I need to listen to this spiel, I’ve done this before. Well, maybe… Consider this - for all of the times I have been on an airplane and heard the safety speech, I have never actually had to exit the plane during a crash, put on a life vest, open that airplane door in the exit row. I think I know, but maybe I really don’t.

Happy travels to you all!


1 comment:

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