Virginia Bianco-Mathis
University professor, author

Virginia Bianco-Mathis

Business department chair of management programs at Marymount University and author of two books on executive coaching.


Flights of fancy

Q: The flight attendant who melted down after a passenger's overhead luggage beaned him, has become something of a folk hero. Steven Slater cursed out the traveler over a loudspeaker and then slid out of the plane's exit chute, exclaiming "I quit!" Can blowing up -- even in a professional capacity -- be a good thing? Have you ever rebelled, or wanted to?

It is not a good thing to blow up. Such episodes make a good story, movie plot, or headline, but they don't positively affect the surrounding environment. If you are a boss who likes to rant and rave, you are creating a work atmosphere filled with fear, sabotage, lying, and unrest. If you are an employee who outwardly expresses frustration and anger, you are an albatross around the necks of your colleagues.

Every frustrated worker, deflated leader, criticized employee, or battered staff member can identify and smile at the Slater event. We all have had flights of fancy where we imagine punching the boss, slapping the whiner, pushing the obnoxious customer, or humiliating the irritating caller. Some of us have even imagined all the details -- just as Slater did -- complete with the intercom insults, grabbing the two beers, and sliding down the shoot. Dramatic or what?

Sorry, I don't buy that this was totally an unexpected meltdown. Yes, I'm sure Slater was disgruntled and fed up and that he had every right to be disgusted with his job. However, I'm sure he had this exact scenario planned out in his head for quite a while and was waiting for just the right "push" (or shall we say, "hit on the head,") to play out his dream.

So, what do we all do as we try to navigate the irritations and sometimes outrageous realities of our work? Slater "went postal," and that phrase was derived from a much more tragic job drama.

First, we have to offer stress and conflict management to people, starting in grade school. Some innovative elementary schools have actually instituted such programs where children are taught the appropriate way to confront, deal with anger, and express frustration.

Second, we need to be more mindful of our own growing frustrations and seek out assistance from therapists, coaches, spouses, or Dear Abby. Talk things through. Make a decision about leaving the job, seeking other outlets, going into another line of work, or developing healthy strategies for remaining where you are.

Third, take a course or program where you learn dialogue techniques for interacting with others, establishing boundaries, making agreements, and easing emotional behavior.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am getting frustrated over this issue. I need some time to think it through. I think it is best if we resume this conversation at a later time when we can brainstorm and problem solve on moving forward, as opposed to getting stuck in our individual agendas and emotions. I am now walking away.

By Virginia Bianco-Mathis  |  August 16, 2010; 4:51 PM ET  | Category:  Success and controversy Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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