De-escalation- What not to do as demonstrated on American Airlines recently. Dramatically demonstrated I must add.  Most everyone by now is aware of the incident on American Airlines on April 22, but since I am aware of people who really do not catch the news in any way, here is a quick summary by way of a video shot on board the aircraft.

Okay, again, I was not there, but there are some things on the video that are compelling and I want to address those as a teaching point.  In the video you do hear the AA guy (American Airlines guy) tell the male passenger “You don’t know what the story is”, and that may be true but from what I gathered from witnesses who spoke to the media and from what we do see on the video the AA guy was in the wrong.  The AA guy apparently took a stroller from the blonde woman, who had 2 toddlers with her, in a manner that almost hit the children and it upset the mother.  Witnesses also commented that the AA guy was rather rough. It quickly began to spiral out of control.

In the video we see the blonde female weeping and apparently very distraught with a child in her arms, there nothing about her to suggest that she was hostile or aggressive or antagonistic towards anyone, and again nor have any witnesses said so.  She also seems very embarrassed and pleads for her stroller, and it sounds like she said “you can’t be violent with babies just give me back my stroller please”.  And then a male passenger who had been observing the whole thing gets fed up and demands to know the “guy’s name that did that with the stroller”.

A few moments go by and the AA guy comes into view, and the male passenger calls out to him, while pointing at the AA guy, “Hey bud, hey bud, you do that to me and I’ll knock you flat!”.  I teach that one of the main things, one of the most critical things you do NOT want to do when de-escalating a situation is point your finger at them!  The male passenger was incensed about what he had observed the AA guy do, and it surely did not help when he started pointing at the AA guy first, but see how the AA guy responded to the male passenger!  The AA guy about came out of his skin reacting and responding the male passenger, lunging at and pointing back at the male passenger!  The AA guy yells at the male passenger “YOU stay out of it!”.

De-escalation- What not to do as demonstrated on American Airlines recently.

AA crew member angrily pointing at a passenger

In my humble opinion it was the responsibility of the AA crew to de-escalate the situation, and especially the responsibility of the AA guy in question.  Clearly he had done something and/or said something to upset a passenger and from comments you can make out in the video other passengers were not impressed with him either.  When de-escalating a situation with an angry person, in this case the male passenger, you need to be very aware of your Body language and tone of voice.  The AA guy in this case absolutely failed in both.  Look at his body language, facial expression, aggressive posture with pointing and lunging forward, and listen to his tone of voice, what he said and how he said it.  No way was that going to de-escalate any situation and sure enough the male passenger comes out of his seat and closes in on the AA guy.  The AA guy just escalated the situation and judging by the size of the male passenger the AA guy was about to get a beat down!

The AA guy should have recognized that he, in a service industry, may have done something that upset a customer, a client, a passenger.  Remember the old saying “The customer is always right”?  He should have become very humble and apologetic especially to the upset woman holding the one child.  When the male passenger spoke up the AA guy should have acknowledged that passengers who saw what had happened were upset with him, and he should have understood that the male passenger was upset with him.  Instead of getting hostile and pointing a finger at the male passenger the AA guy should have calmly said something to the effect of “Yes sir, I do apologize.  Please just remain in your seat”.  I am strongly convinced that the male passenger would NOT have come out of his seat and got in the AA guy’s personal space if the AA guy had responded in some way as I suggested, calmly, with a non aggressive, non hostile body posture, non aggressive facial expression.

AA guy’s tone of voice… Nothing about it was calming or soothing and peaceful either.  Demanding, commanding, “You stay out of it!” .  And after the two men are separated you see and hear the AA guy say “You don’t know what the story is!”  And you can tell by the way he says it with his lips curled in, baring his teeth, that he is full of adrenaline and ready to fight.  I can tell you that having body posture like that, baring teeth, aggressive body posture, and firm demanding tone of voice and words just aren’t very successful in de-escalating situations!

Now parents may condition their children to respond when the parent assumes a certain expression and uses a certain tone, but that is very different than trying to de-escalate an angry, agitated person.  In the family certain family dynamics and communication cues are established and learned and used.  When dealing with strangers it is very different, even if they are acting like 2 year olds throwing a tantrum!

There are three very basic concepts you need to be aware of when dealing with and trying to de-escalate a person, I have come up with the acronym ACE, and that refers to your APPEARANCE, your COMMUNICATION, and your ENGAGEMENT.  Basically, your body language, your tone of voice, and whether or not  you are engaged and actively listening to the other person.  This AA guy totally blew it, lost self control, and then lost total control of the situation and that is not good when passengers are looking to the crew for leadership and guidance.  It seems that other crew members may have dropped the ball too, and not doing anything to help de-escalate the situation with the distraught lady and the AA guy in the first place, in the video they seem to just be standing around.

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