How to Listen Better

March 5, 2012  

Friday evening, on JetBlue flight #1696 from Orlando to Boston, we had a bit of a problem.

About an hour outside of Boston, the pilot got on the intercom and told us that the main braking system was not working.  Although the back-up system would probably work just fine, they were preparing us for the worst.

The pilot and flight attendants described the emergency procedures.  They were similar to the ones frequent travelers have heard 1,000 times before, with a few additions (e.g,, brace positions, etc).  But this time, as they walked us through what would happen, you could hear a pin drop on the plane.  Everyone was paying attention.

I was in seat 11F – the emergency exit row, window seat.  As such, I was designated as the person in charge of opening the emergency door if it was needed.  The flight attendant gave me instructions on how to open the door.  She also gave me the code word that the pilot would use if he wanted us to open the emergency exits.

Needless to say, I was listening very carefully.  I studied the charts on how to open the door several times.

Although I am on nearly 100 flights a year, I was listening in a way I never had before.  The truth is, I rarely pay attention to the emergency procedures when we are not in an emergency situation.

This got me thinking: Do I ever really listen?

  • Am I really hearing what others are saying?  Or am I only passively listening?
  • Am I focused on their words?  Or am I thinking about what I will say next?
  • Am I putting myself in the shoes of the other?  Or am I only interested in meeting my objectives?
  • Am I hearing what they are really saying?  Or am I too colored by my own perceptions and judgments?
  • Do I ask a lot of questions?  Or am I the one doing all of the talking?

These are simple, yet useful questions to assess how well I am indeed listening.  And guess what, I (like most people) could be doing a much better job.

Our plane did not crash.  The back-up system worked perfectly.  When we landed the entire plane broke out into thunderous applause.

I am sure that everyone who was on that plane will be listening more intently the next time the emergency procedures are read during take-off.  And maybe they will also listen to friends, colleagues, and family members just a bit more carefully.  Maybe.

P.S. Less than 24 hours after the landing, JetBlue issued a $100 travel credit to everyone who was on that flight.  JetBlue is a class act. 

P.P.S. No, the picture was NOT our flight.  

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