I was on a flight last week, and it was a few minutes past the time that they should have closed the cabin doors.  The pilot came out and got on the PA system.  Here’s what he said:

“Folks, you know when the captain comes out of the cockpit to talk to you, it’s not good news. We’re going to be delayed because there’s a malfunction in the oxygen system in the cockpit and if something happens mid-flight, believe me; you want a conscious pilot. I know I’m old, but I promise, I’m more alert when I have oxygen.  This problem is only in the cockpit. There’s nothing wrong with the oxygen system in the main cabin.

I’m am very sorry about this, and if anyone wants to yell at me about the delay, please come on up. But, I want to warn you – I’ve been married for 30 years, so I’m pretty immune. But you can still yell if it makes you feel better.  Once the maintenance crew gets here, it should take them about ten minutes to fix the problem, so I expect we’ll be in the air in thirty minutes.  If I think it’s going to be longer than that, I will let you know.”

When he was done, people laughed and applauded.  They applauded a flight delay announcement.  That doesn’t happen very often.  So, what did the pilot do to earn everyone’s grace?

  • He was sincere and genuinely apologized.
  • He explained the root problem and the risks of not fixing the problem.
  • He gave specific details as to the timeframe to fix the problem.
  • He promised to keep his customers informed if there was a change in the plan or timeline.
  • He was warm and approachable.
  • He used humor at an appropriate level.
  • He invited customers to express their discontent.

That’s a pretty impressive outcome for a speech with fewer than 175 words.  And actually, that’s one of the other things he did well.  He didn’t wrap his notification and apology in a lot of excuses, explanations or weasel words.  He was straightforward and candid.  

You’re the main source of information (and sometimes accidentally —  misinformation) at your shop.  The art of delivering bad news well is probably a skill we could all level up a bit.


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