A Tale of Two Influences

Not long ago, I was in an airport looking forward to getting home after a long but productive week of client visits.  It was late on a Friday night and a far away but severe weather system had wrecked havoc with the friendly skies.  Although the weather at our location was perfect, a number of incoming flights were delayed, which, of course, delayed many outbound flights.  The airport gate which was hosting my flight was hosting three other flights scheduled to depart at about the same time.  As you might guess, a large number of tired and delayed passengers were packed in the small gate area of the airport.

As I watched the folks around me, I noticed a good deal of frustration.  Sure, it can be annoying to have your travel plans delayed as most of these passengers had.  But, I also watched as the airline representative behind the counter greeted every customer with a stern look and negative shakes of the head.  I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but I could see the results of her communication.  For flyer after flyer, the results were the same — people walked away more discouraged and frustrated than they were before interacting with her.

Finally, at about an hour and a half late, our flight was called to board.  My flying colleagues and I were about the escape the cramped confines of the airport gate for the cramped confines of our commuter plane.  As we boarded, I heard several passengers continuing to murmur about the flight delays and the poor customer service.  We loaded our bags above our heads and got settled in.

The pilot welcomed us on board over the PA system.  And then he told us that we’d have to wait even longer as airline mechanics investigated a problem with an on-board computer.  The sighs and groans were easily heard.

And then something magical happened.

The stewardess came over the PA and said, “We still don’t know yet when we’ll be leaving, but I’m going to be optimistic and go ahead with some of the pre-flight instructions.”  It wasn’t the message the plane’s passengers wanted to hear and more sighs were heard.  Then, the stewardess  started the pre-recorded flight instruction message and broadly smiled.  It was almost a goofy smile.  It was clearly out of place.

As the recorded voice began talking about not smoking, highlighted the location of the bathrooms and exits, and described how to use the seat as a flotation device, our stewardess smiled and began to perform for us.  She turned dramatically, she danced, she shook her index finger at us in that “no-no-no” manner.  She ran up and down the isle to show us where the exits and bathrooms were.  She was having fun.  Or at least she was faking it really well!

Witnessing this performance, you could tell a few passengers weren’t paying attention at first.  But then the plane grew more quiet as she presented the instructions to us.  I looked around and could see more and more people watching her and responding positively.  The murmurs began to be replaced by laughter and smiles.

And then she stopped.  She threw up an arm and paused as if a spotlight were on her.  The passengers – the very same passengers who just minutes before were expressing a couple of hours worth of frustrations – erupted in applause.   She bowed, still smiling.  We sat at the gate for another half hour, but the mood on the plane was palpably different and positive.  She had changed the whole feel of the evening.

Today you have the opportunity to change the responses of those in your shop.  You can be the customer service representative I saw in the airport who matched the passengers’ grumpiness with her own.  Or, you can be a climate changer and act like the stewardess on my flight.  Each of us has the capacity and the opportunities to influence the behavior of others.  If you decide to influence others positively, I guarantee you’ll have more success in your work as a development professional and you’ll have more fun!

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