I settled into my American Airlines aisle seat, cracked open my book, and hoped for the space of an empty middle seat on the long Atlanta to LA flight. About five minutes before takeoff, I heard a woman’s voice yelling ‘we paid 65 bucks for seats further back and you have me sitting here, in a middle seat. You’d better get my money back. Why are we sitting here?
I couldn’t help but look up. What I saw wasn’t the woman. It was the target of her jabs. And he was looking me dead in the eye, motioning that they would be my close quarter companions for the next 5 hours.
I stood up to let them slide in and, as they did, the lady gave me a death stare and said ‘you’re going to have a miserable flight.’
‘Nah, you’re alright. I can handle it.’
Before she was in her seat, she said ‘I like you.’
As it turned out, we all kind of liked each other. We got to know each other on the flight West. They were new to Atlanta, heading to LA to close escrow on the house they had owned for decades. She had never lived anywhere else and settling into Atlanta was no cakewalk for the diehard Angeleno. She missed her family and was struggling to make friends in her new hometown.
Yeah, she continued to pepper her husband with barbs all the way to LA about his lousy decision to sit her in crappy seats. But, overall, it was a pretty pleasant flight for all of us.
Why? Because I didn’t react negatively to her insinuation that she was going to make my life hell for the next 5 hours. Instead, I let her be mad and told her it was ok.
Like most of us, she was dealing with a lot. The flight marked the start of officially closing out a chapter in her life.
As leaders, we have to allow people to feel what they feel. Yes, we want to ratchet down the yelling and the emotions. But the first step in doing that is honoring that the emotions are real, even if we don’t like or agree with them.
Only after you do that can you begin to help shift them into a more positive place.
As a leader, can you quickly assess and diffuse high anxiety? How do you do it?
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