Today’s post is the feature article from the November 2004 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.
It had been a long flight. I had boarded the United jet in plenty of time, but was one of the last on the plane. I had my carry-on luggage, but every bin was full. Far back in the coach section I found a flight attendant and asked for assistance to check the bag. She was kind and most helpful. Before checking the bag, she offered to try to find a spot in one of the overhead bins. She located a spot near the front of the plane and told me I could just put it there.
The flight safely landed three hours later. After being squeezed in the dead center of the five seats in the middle-seating section of the airplane’s 2-5-2 seat configuration, I was thrilled to be home. I slowly began to make my way from the back. I kept reminding myself to pick up my luggage from the front of the plane. The first class section of the plane was empty, except for my luggage waiting for me — and a woman standing in the seat just beneath it.
As I grabbed for my luggage, she verbally lashed out at me with a fury that must have been building for some time. Is this YOUR luggage? Not sure why she was asking, I simply replied with a yes. That was the wrong answer. She continued — this is your luggage and you were sitting in the BACK of the plane. Yes again. I could see that her blood was boiling — and it didn’t help when I explained that a flight attendant had asked me to put it there. I AM A FLIGHT ATTENDANT, she boldly replied! I was glad she had told me since she was out of uniform and by this point another word description had unfortunately crossed my mind! The tone of her next question only confirmed that not only was I one of the scums of the earth from the coach section, but that I was also a liar — “a flight attendant told you to put it there?” To avoid totally ruining my day, I sternly looked back at her and said “Yes!” I pulled the bag down, never looked back and kept walking. As you can imagine, I was not thinking very kindly of her or United Airlines as I departed.
I found myself continuing to get more upset with each step out of the jetway. By the time I got into the terminal I decided I would wait for her to come off the plane and calmly tell her that she had been totally out of line in her approach — even if she was a flight attendant. I waited for five minutes but she never appeared. While I was waiting, I reflected on the situation and realized that the whole problem was created all because she had made an assumption. She had assumed that I had taken it upon myself to use the luggage bin in the First Class Cabin while flying in coach. On the surface it was a fair assumption. And as a flight attendant (on or off duty) I am sure she thought she was doing her job by enforcing the privacy of that cabin. But her assumption and her related response were terribly wrong.
I knew she would eventually come off the plane, but I decided to leave. I quickly reminded myself that I had made some bad assumptions of my own. Yes, I was still mad at her and United Airlines, but that too would pass. It did get me thinking, in a world that moves so quickly, about how dangerous it can be to make assumptions. Sometimes we are forced to make some judgments without all the facts, but a habit of making assumptions can be a really bad thing. I recommitted to myself to be more intentional about avoiding that trap!
How do you measure-up on the trap of assumptions? Last month I asked our Front Porch readers how they measured up — and here is how they responded:
1. I quickly jump to conclusions:
Always — 0%
Frequently — 33%
Sometimes — 65%
Never — 2%
2. I am most likely to jump to conclusions:
At work — 12%
At home — 29%
About the same at work or home — 59%
3. Overall, I think jumping to conclusions is:
Risky — 83%
Appropriate — 2%
Necessary — 15%
4. I am most likely to jump to a conclusion in:
A challenging project at work — 8%
An issue with a personal relationship — 50%
An issue with a direct report — 10%
An issue with a peer — 12%
An issue with a boss — 12%
Other — 8%
5. I have AT LEAST ONCE put myself in an embarrassing situation by having jumped to a conclusion:
Yes — 95%
No — 5%
I then asked our readers to share their most embarrassing moment from jumping to a conclusion. One assumed they had closed a sale after not hearing their client correctly. Another thought their boss was replacing them when they were actually being promoted! One professional jumped to their conclusion on a sexual harassment case before discovering that the female had been a willing participant. And one parent asked their daughter not to see a certain boy. He turned out to be a good kid!
Where do you fall on surfing the waves of making assumptions?
ACTION IDEA: Take an inventory of your assumption habits. Think back about the last time you made a wrong assumption. Commit to taking a second look next time. Think back about the last time someone made a wrong assumption about you. This month as you celebrate Thanksgiving — spread a little forgiveness. And yes, I have forgiven my flight attendant. I will be flying United next week. I think I will check my luggage!