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Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Letter

So, here's the deal.....I've spent a good portion of my last year helping design a project for my employer.  Flight Path Debrief for Flight Attendants.  I've mentioned it more than once here.  Honest to god, hundreds of hours.  All last summer spent in an office in Seattle.  Several hundred ideas, suggestions, "spaghetti on the wall" as we've called it -- tossing out ideas and thoughts and what may or may not work.  It's mandatory training.  The morning portion is all-employee -- 150 employees from all work groups.  The afternoon sessions are broken out into one's own division....mine being Flight Attendants.  And it's the afternoon Flight Attendant piece that I've helped design and am now an occasional facilitator.

It's playing out very, very well.  There have been a lot of laughs and plenty of tears as we FAs learn things about other areas of our company.  Things we don't typically know or are a part of.  There are some parts that are introspective....from both a professional and personal level.  Examination.  Looking inside.  I like it when people are functioning at their best as human beings.  And that's where this program is designed to take us.  It's part historical.  Part motivational.  And there is this little section that we've called "The Letter."  It's no longer being used.  But we tested it with a wide variety of test groups for many months.  We modified it, changed it, softened it, soothed it.  We changed our facilitator notes and what direction it was that we wanted FAs to "go" in their minds and hearts.  Honestly, it was a great piece.  A prodding piece.  A poking piece.  Made to make us think, consider.  And I like that kind of thing -- that keeps me well rounded, thinking, using my head, and propels me forward.  But clearly not all FAs like that sort of thing.  I've already made it clear that we are an unusual group.  Set in our ways, don't like change, demand flexibility, picky, get irritated by things like "I'll have a black coffee."  Only to be met three rows later with a wave of the hand and a "I'll need a cream and four sugars."  Those things continue to confound the wise.  We exist in a world of shallow talk and chit chat with passengers.  Nothing overly indepth.  Surface.

So when a piece like "The Letter" is presented, we're taken aback.  Shocked.  Surprised.  Which is exactly what the piece was designed to do.  But it was intended to lead us in a positive direction.  Not a negative direction.  The section played out quite powerfully in a positive way to most.  "Life changing, powerful, really made me consider, etc" are a few of the comments.  But then there is this group of folks who are stuck.  In the past.  With what has happened to them over the years.  The victims.  With having been down this "company kool aid" trail before.  They don't like management.  They don't like people with good attitudes.  They don't like coworkers who are friendly or go out of their way to help others.  They live with an "Us" and "Them" mentality.  And for those folks, the letter incited rage.  Upset.  Anger.  Two wild extremes depending upon the type of person The Letter was presented to.

The Letter was a fake letter which explained that our company had been purchased by an investor.  Assets were to be liquidated.  Employees could reapply if they cared to.  No one's jobs were preserved.  It said nothing about "You're fired" or "You're a bad employee."  But, you see, that's how we FAs work.  We think we know better.  We exist in a land of rumors and half-truths.  We are not well connected to an accurate line of information.  The funny thing is that about 95% of the negative comments came from those who had not even attended the program yet.  Rumors.  What they thought they knew.  What they had heard from others.  That's what they based their reactions on. And that I do not respect nor place any value on. 

Really?  Seriously?  You haven't even experienced it yet and you're already red faced and irritated?  Is that really the type of human being you are?  Umm humm.  It is.  The Letter was designed to encourage a "What Would You Do" sort of dialog.  What would you do tomorrow if this happened to you today?  Who would you tell first?  Do you have a plan?  Are you prepared?  It was to encourage ideas and thoughts from others.  To help us get ourselves in line if we are ever purchased, or merged, or or or.

So, I made a Facebook entry the other night saying that I was facilitating Flight Path the following day and how excited I was to do so.  My first and only comment was from a coworker who has never once made a comment on my FB page.  But with regard to this, she did.  I didn't like the comment, felt it rude and inappropriate for someone else to be making on MY page with MY excitement about the following day.   Most of us would never do that.  But that's the way she works.  I removed it and messaged her to tell her why I had done it.  Here is the dialog:

ME:   Hi there. I removed your comment about the "Stupid Firing Letter." I felt it personally offensive. I helped develop the Flight Path program. I'm 100% invested in it. And it's tough to hear those sorts of half-cocked, uninformed comments from those who haven't even been to the program yet. I'm more than happy to chat anytime about the letter or anything else in the program. The letter had nothing to do with being fired. That's what rumors do for our lives. They create an unbalance, unfair, air of negativity that is not based on truth. Let me know if you have any questions.

HER: You weren't here in 85 when I received an unfair, negative letter to come back to work or I WAS fired.Unchanged in my opinion and what seems to be the same of an overwhelming majority of people that have gone to your mandatory program,Also a letter from our CEO (Bruce Kennedy)that we were all a bunch of ingrates and we were lucky to have a job instead of a Christmas card or bonus.You say I'm uninformed but maybe it was ____ and your team that were uninformed about how touchy this letter would be.I've run this idea by family friends that run corporations and they were appalled at this idea of trying making an employee feel grateful for their job by "picturing their life without this job. "So I feel your attack is personally offensive, as well-Respectively yours-

"Respectively yours"?  Really?  So, I went to bed.  I tossed and turned.  Upset.  By her blue-collar bully ignorance.  The uninformed who think they know it all.  Those who actually know 10% but speak like they know 110%.  And she continued to message me because I was in bed and failed to respond to her as quickly as she thought I should have: 

HERNothing?Would you like me to form it in a question? It's obvious that you have gotten alot of heat for this but do you honestly feel that none of the negative feedback is valid?

The Letter section has been changed.  Redeveloped.  And it is working just fine.  Good dialog.  Good discussion.  But definitely lacks the punch and power of The Letter.  It was just way too far to ask some folks to travel in their heads.  They just couldn't do it.  Most of us could, a vocal minority could not.

So that's how my week's gone.  How about yours?


Dave2 said...

I never mind criticism for any project I'm involved in. Honestly, I don't. If I can't defend what I've done in the face of criticism, then I don't deserve to be a part of the project. So constructive criticism? Bring it on.


It's the WAY that some people criticize which bothers me. Even when they have constructive comments, some people just have to be a jerk. Rather than simply explaining what it is that troubles them so you can address it, they make the criticism an attack and take it to a personal level. Who learns anything from that?

Ur-spo said...

I don't relish your project; but I admire your courage to do so. The 'us' vs. 'them' crowds - and the whiners - always make progress and process difficult. I hope it works well; please keep your marbles!