“Today we saved a life. We would have done the same for you.”

During a recent international trip, the lead flight attendant made an announcement.

“If there are any medical doctors on board, please go to the back of the main cabin.” When two doctors and one nurse anesthetist responded to the request, they found an unresponsive older man in the midst of a cardiac event.

Our flight was one hour past St. John Canada when the incident occurred. After several minutes of assessing the man, the captain asked if our flight should proceed with five more hours to go over the ocean or turn back to St. John, the closest landing field. The three-member impromptu medical team unanimously recommended to turn back.

Several hours later after the patient was taken off of the flight by paramedics, we arrived almost 24 hours late to our final destination. One of the passengers complained to the lead flight attendant about missing his connecting flight. The flight attendant stayed calmed, validated the inconvenience and acknowledged the passenger’s disrupted travel plans. The passenger persisted in complaining. Finally, the flight attendant made a brilliant, professional statement that immediately quieted the passenger.

“Today we saved a life. We would have done the same for you.”

As a leader, you’ve probably experienced a client or employee who didn’t like a decision you made. It’s one of the challenges of being a leader, not being able to please everyone. Despite your attempts to make reasonable and rational decisions for the collective whole, someone is likely to complain.

When receiving a barrage of complaints and criticism, it’s hard to respond calmly and validate the person’s concerns. Sometimes, people simply want to be heard. Sometimes, people want you to fix the problem. Sometimes, people want you to change a reality that can’t be changed. In this case, the passenger wanted the flight attendant to change a reality that wasn’t the airlines fault. The crew handled an unexpected medical need with professionalism and kept safety first.

Like the lead flight attendant, stay calm, nonreactive, and respond with a concise statement. Acknowledge the big picture fact (we saved a life today), followed by an empathy statement (we would have done the same for you).

No leader can please everyone all the time. But you can treat everyone the same, including saving a life.

If you’d like help to stay calm and nonreactive when complainers won’t stop, just give us a call or send an email.

PS – The nurse anesthetist in this story is my brother-in-law, Ed. I want to give a shout out to him for his contribution in helping to save this man’s life. We don’t know what happened after the man left the plane, but I’m grateful to Ed and all healthcare professionals who at a moment’s notice respond to help those in need.

Workplace Conflict Expert Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT, works with executive leaders and team managers who want to stop divisive behaviors, resolve conflict, and build the team trust needed to create a healthy work culture.  Contact Bonnie to help your employees get along and bring teams together.

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