So I received a personal apology from United Airlines’ CEO, Oscar Munoz. If you have flown United, you probably got one too.
I frequently United, and was shocked by the recent event of a passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight. Following that I was disappointed by United’s response to the event. I’ll admit, I’ve fantasized about what I would have done in that situation and what advice I’d give United if they asked.
The letter I got is what I’ve been waiting for. A real apology. It uses the principles of Compassionate Accountability, and almost exactly adheres to the four steps for an effective apology I described in a post on the topic last year. Here are the steps, what Mr. Munoz said to me, and my reactions.
Step 1: Share your feelings.
“We can never say we are sorry enough for what occurred, but we also know meaningful actions will speak louder than words.”
I appreciate this, and I would really like to hear how you, Oscar, actually feel about this. Are you embarrassed? Ashamed? Anxious? Sad? Get honest and transparent with me.
Step 2: Identify your behavior and how it caused harm.
“Earlier this month, we broke that trust when a passenger was forcibly removed from one of our planes… It happened because our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values. Our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.”
Thank you. This is important because if you don’t know what you did, why it happened, and how your behavior caused harm, you can’t make meaningful change.
Step 3: Make it right.
“… we will no longer ask law enforcement to remove customers from a flight and customers will not be required to give up their seat once on board.”
“We will increase incentives for voluntary rebooking up to $10,000 and will be eliminating the red tape on permanently lost bags with a new “no-questions-asked” $1,500 reimbursement policy.”
Specific actions that show you intend to change your behavior are critical. Thank you, United.
Step 4: Be receptive.
“I have found myself reflecting more broadly on the role we play and the responsibilities we have to you and the communities we serve.”
I’m glad this experience is inviting United to step back and reflect. Even better, I’d like to know what’s going on with you personally? Any transformation on the inside that would give us confidence you are changing for the better? I would have also appreciated an invitation to share my feelings, ideas, and beliefs about what United can do to improve. A real apology reactively AND proactively takes into account the other person’s feelings and experience.
My wish for United and Mr. Munoz is that this experience has helped them recognize that no matter how big you get, you are still dealing with real people who have real feelings. This is a relationship business.
Trust is built by answering two questions every day, in every interaction.
Am safe with you?
Can count on you?
I will fly United again, and I look forward to struggling with you, Mr. Munoz, to turn this mistake into a stepping stone for success.
Dr. Nate Regier is the co-founding owner and chief executive officer of Next Element, a global advisory firm specializing in building cultures of compassionate accountability. Regier is an expert in social-emotional intelligence and leadership, positive conflict, mind-body-spirit health, neuropsychology, group dynamics, interpersonal and leadership communication, executive assessment and coaching, organizational development, team building and change management. Nate has published two books: “Beyond Drama“, and “Conflict without Casualties“.