level-headed

When Complainers Won’t Stop… How to Remain Level-Headed as a Leader

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

During an international trip a few years ago, 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 elderly 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 turning 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 a few rows ahead of us complained to the lead flight attendant about missing their connecting flight. 

The flight attendant stayed calm, validated the reality of the inconvenience, and acknowledged the passenger’s disrupted travel plans with empathy. 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 most likely you are met with complaints and criticism about decisions you make on a regular basis.  It’s one of the challenges of being a leader. You can’t please everyone all the time. Despite your attempts to make reasonable and rational decisions for the collective whole, someone is likely to complain and criticize your decisions.

When receiving a barrage of complaints and criticismit’s only natural to defend your position when instead what is needed most at the moment is to stay calm and level-headed while validating 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. 

Our fellow travel companion wanted the flight attendant to change a reality that couldn’t be changed. The crew handled an unexpected medical emergency with professionalism keeping safety first.

The next time you receive complaints and criticism about your leadership decisions, follow the example of the lead flight attendant.

How to handle complaints and criticism:

  • Stay calm and level-headed
  • Validate reality “We saved a life today”.
  • Convey empathy “We would have done the same for you”.

While you can’t please everyone all the time, you can choose to stay level-headed and treat everyone the same, including saving a life.

When was a time you were met with complaints and criticism and you stay level-headed?

What helps you to stay calm and convey empathy to your naysayers?

More than ever, our world needs leaders to model healthy behaviors. Please share examples of how you are paving the way. 

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.

About the author 

Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT works with executive leaders who want to gain self-awareness about the impact of their words and actions and up-level their interpersonal skills. 

Drawing from decades as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie brings a unique perspective to equip executive leaders with the roadmap to the emotional intelligence of their company culture.

Bonnie’s leadership Turnaround coaching program has an 82% success rate in guiding leaders to replace abrasive behavior with tack, empathy, and consideration of others. The end result is a happy, healthy, and profitable workplace…sooner vs. later.

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