“It is not my fault – it is the weather!” I am sitting waiting for my flight in Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. A flight to New York had been cancelled and the agent was exasperated as she tried to deal with an irate customer.
She was rightly saying that she couldn’t control the weather – as if the customer thought she could. The trouble with her approach was that the way a customer hears that is that the agent had no ability to solve the problem. She was trying to avoid blame, she too was a victim of the weather, but inadvertently gave away all of her power to feel like she had some role in fixing the problem. If it were me I would be thinking, “Who do I talk to that has the power to help me with a solution?”
Stuff happens in life. Murphy’s Law seems to exist to torment those of that need help to learn how to handle problems. It is not that problems occur but what you do to respond to those problems!
Imagine if the same agent responded to the customer in the following manner. “I am sorry that the flight was cancelled but let’s work together to see what we can do to solve the problem”. Said with the right empathy this would have gone a long way to disabling the growing customer service problem.
You know the old saying, “If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem”? I want to turn that around to, “if you are not the problem then you have no role in the solution”. The ask is that people take on the role of Navigator. They must be willing to see themselves as empowered people who can navigate the tricky waters to get to the right solution.
A lot of things demand the navigator to see their own choices as the point of leverage. That is, almost to say, “I personally chose to cancel your flight because the weather conditions would put your life in danger”.
It is a ridiculously high standard but try it. The next time you are feeling like making an excuse for being late (e.g. traffic) try to own the solution by owning the problem. “I apologize, I did not properly anticipate my travel time today” not only sounds better than, “the traffic was heavier than normal today” but it keeps you responsible for the solution. Because the only person that controls what time you leave for the trip is you!
Let’s use another example. You are a customer sales agent and a customer has ordered a product that has not been delivered as promised. It would be easy to blame the courier company especially if that was true (“XYZ Courier totally screwed up!” could the beginning of your deflection). But see how this feels. “I apologize. I did not follow up with your order to make sure that it would be delivered on time. I will get right on this to expedite delivery at this point. What would work for you?” The navigator takes ownership of the problem and the solution.
Being a navigator is hard work. It is in fact a tough slog to constantly maintain that view because there are so many problems and owning all of them is beyond most of us. But building your navigator muscle is what builds your ability to solve problems and not just be a victim of life’s circumstances.
Unfortunately for many airlines their brands have a tarnish of victimhood. Too many employees take this position and consequently it seems to be part of the company culture. Brand redemption starts with personal ownership of problems we didn’t create!