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Rough Landings Made Right: Don’t Leave Your Audience Up in the Air

Coming home from a vacation in paradise always hurts a little. On a recent trip, poor corporate communication made it worse, until a quick-thinking flight attendant eased the pain.
After spending several days in the pool and on the beach south of the border, the flat concrete expanse at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport felt like the last place I wanted to be. I just wanted to get through customs and get home to my dog.
Then the pilot took to the intercom.
“Well, folks. It looks like there’s still a plane at our gate,” he said. “So we’re going to wait here a few minutes.”
I groaned. People around me shook their heads and muttered.
Then a flight attendant picked up the mic.
“Ladies and gentlemen, because our flight was faster than expected, we’ve arrived at the gate about 20 minutes early, so the gate isn’t available. We should still have you off the plane on time.”
People nodded. Shoulders relaxed. Visions of sprints to connecting flights evaporated. Thumbs flew over keyboards as everyone updated friends and family.
I give the pilot points for trying to get information to the cabin quickly. But if he had taken another moment to carefully consider his words, he could have left people with a positive impression, rather than giving passengers one more reason to grumble.
The pilot and the flight attendant, employees of the same airline, delivered essentially the same news: Passengers were going to be trapped with each other for a few more minutes. But they took different routes and got very different reactions.
The scenario carries three lessons for communicators and companies:
  1. Transparency matters. When companies explain WHY something is happening, not just WHAT is happening, people are more likely to view the position kindly. That’s especially true if customers face inconvenience.
  2. Messaging matters. The words communicators choose can play a decisive role in whether people cringe or cheer.
  3. Every employee is part of a brand. Organizations must make sure any potential representatives are on board with messaging and understand communications are critical.
At Candor, we’re always ready to help organizations craft messages to improve how people receive them, even when the news isn’t all good.

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