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Don’t sweat the small stuff – bouncing back from life’s inconveniences

October 1, 2012
Ben Hunt-Davis

Last Friday evening I was taking a flight to Istanbul where I was due to be working on the Saturday.  At 5.45 pm, I boarded my BA flight with the intention of using the 4 ½ hour trip to work on my business strategy and the design for a new course.  Thankfully, my client had booked me a business class seat and being a European flight there were two business class seats on either side of the aisle, not much leg room but far better than an economy seat.

Having got myself comfortable in seat 2A I had already opened my notebook and I was scribbling away when I was aware of a loud irate Australian voice berating the cabin crew about something that BA had done to cause upset/problems/inconveniences to the person in question. After a period of letting off steam a man in his 40’s appeared and made a huge fuss about trying to find space for his bag and he continued to complain loudly about anything and everything to do with BA as he sat in his seat (3C), diagonally behind me.  A member of the cabin crew tried to calm him but wasn’t that successful.

After take-off the American man in front of him put his seat back and all hell kicked off.  After realising the error of his ways the American businessman apologised and put his chair upright but the Aussie wouldn’t let it go. For the rest of the flight he ranted and raved, shook the Americans chair or stuck his knees so far forward the American was pushed forward. The cabin crew called him up to the galley a couple of times to talk to him, the American was I think offered a different seat but wanted to remain with his colleagues and outwardly remained incredibly calm much to his credit.

I thought about what I could do or say to do to help the situation but thought that getting involved would not help although if the man got violent I might have to help restrain him.  As there was nothing I could do I got on with my work, aware of what was happening but not being affected by it.  I managed to get a lot of my work done and was very satisfied with the flight but what really made the flight for everyone else in the business area was the appearance of two Turkish policemen when the door opens upon arrival in Istanbul. The Australian was arrested and led to a waiting police car. Two things really struck me.

  1. The collective sigh of relief that was audible as the irate Aussie was led away was incredible. The tension that people had let creep in because of one person’s behaviour was really surprising.  It was the only thing being spoken about on the bus to the airport building and in the passport queue; it had had a real impact on people. I had been aware of what was happening, I had found it quite interesting, considered what I could do and then got on with my work. For most people it had completely ruined their flight.
  2. The man in question had clearly had a bad day. He didn’t seem drunk, he was a regular on BA but something must have gone badly wrong for him earlier that day. Again I’m guessing – but finding himself in a Turkish police cell probably meant his day finished at an all-time low.

‘Bouncebackability’ is a crucial life skill.  The Aussie had had a bad day but his inability to bounce back effectively lead to him being carted off to a Turkish Police cell. His day got worse because he couldn’t deal with what had happened. The other passengers on the plane had their flight ruined by their inability to deal with what was happening and chose a response to take them away from their goal.  When something goes wrong how we deal with it impacts the next set of results that we’re likely to get.

There are few simple things that we can do to help us bounce back.

  • Prepare – often the things that annoy or upset us are predictable, travel to work, losing a sales opportunity, a disagreement. These are everyday events. Can we plan in advance so that when they do happen we know how we should respond in order to keep us on track, in order to make our boats go faster?
  • Accept – often the things that get us down and make us angry are everyday things, they will pass.  In how many cases can you just accept that sometime they will happen and you’ll just have to deal with it?  By keeping your mind on the goal might you be able to drop the annoyance and move on?
  • Do – of the things that go wrong how many of them can we control? There is no point worrying about what is outside our control, what we should do is throw all our weight behind the things that we can control and by focussing on them make sure that our actions are aligned to our goals.

If the Aussie had been focusing on something that he wanted to achieve, enjoying a weekend in Istanbul or closing his next business deal, could he have responded better to whatever had happened to him earlier?  Could the other passengers have accepted that there was a noisy person on board, realise that they only had 4 ½ hours to put up with him and got on with working, reading or sleeping rather than having their flight ruined. I wonder how many of them let it ruin their entire weekend.

In life and certainly in running a small business there will be many things that happen to piss us off.  In order to stay on track, we need to focus on our goals and become better and better at bouncing back from setbacks that could throw our business off track.

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