Executive Coaching: Talking Trash

I was up at 5 a.m. Eastern time for a flight recently and, after sleeping poorly, was a bit crabby about it. I also had a full day back in Denver, which meant I was starting at 3 a.m. Mountain time and would miss exercising and be late for dinner with my wife and friends. 

When I got to the Fort Lauderdale airport, the TSA Pre line was three times longer than the regular line — consisting of mostly vacation travelers. The ones who walk perpendicular to traffic. The ones who board or leave “people movers” (escalators, trams, etc.) and immediately stop! The ones who look for their ticket after getting called to the TSA podium. Oh well … 

The woman ahead of me in the security line tried to get through the “naked body scanner” (my wife’s term) with boots on that had about three cows’ worth of leather and a couple hundred metal doohickeys. Right out of “Mad Max.” They sent her back out and she stood right in front of the scanner to remove her boots. Sheesh! Talk about stupid! No self-awareness, I thought to myself (and bit my tongue to not say to her). I convinced her to move aside, but the TSA guy was now talking with someone as the line backed up. Was everyone an idiot this morning?

I entered the United Club behind a slow-moving couple (not aged or infirm, just deep in discussion and ignoring the rest of the world) who believed that, because they had first-class tickets, they should be allowed to enter even though they weren’t members. They broke the second law of thermodynamics — you might’ve thought it was about entropy, but it states “thou shalt never argue with an airline employee” — and got uppity with the United guy, trying to argue their way into the room. It didn’t end well. What was this? Are only stupid zombies about this early?

As I walked to my gate, I threw some paper and my plastic hotel key into the trash. A few minutes later, I pulled out my iPhone and driver’s license to board. Wait a minute! That wasn’t my driver’s license; it was my hotel key! That meant …

As I dug through the public trash cans (multiple, because I forgot which one I used) in the airport to find my license, my sense of superiority significantly diminished. 

I then believed that the woman with the boots was probably on the only flight she’d taken in quite a while and could’ve used some empathy rather than scorn. Suddenly all of those vacation travelers were wonderful parents, using their hard-earned money to fulfill their children’s desire for a family vacation. The couple in the United Club? Sorry, they were still stupid! My new perspective only went so far, and everyone knows you don’t argue with an airline employee!

Isn’t it funny how our frame of reference can swing from one day to the next (or, in my case, from one minute to the next)? And knowing that, we can do something about it. 

I have a bright new coaching client who admitted to losing his temper with someone for a relatively minor issue. He realized that he had to be careful to take a deep breath before responding to a trigger event in anger. I have my own device for caging my impatience; it works in most circumstances, but I failed to use it this particular morning. Luckily, I kept my short-fused comments to myself.

Reframing issues (without throwing your driver’s license in the trash) is an important skill for not only executives but also everyone who interacts with other humans. Curiosity rather than certainty, empathy rather than scorn, questions rather than answers — these are all good techniques for interacting with the world. Except, of course, for those who argue with airline employees. They deserve what they get.

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  • Don Myers

    5:10 am May 8, 2018

    When I first view the picture you posted, I thought it was the mixing of your lunch salad. I’m glad I read on!

    • Todd Ordal

      5:56 am May 8, 2018

      Thanks, Don. I guess I need a trashier picture!

  • Kris Cotrone

    7:38 pm May 8, 2018

    Great reminder. Right on point in need for leaders to develop empathy and to approach situations with curiosity.

    Hello from MN!

    • Todd Ordal

      8:49 pm May 8, 2018

      Thanks, Kris! Hope you are well.