I had arrived later than I expected at the airport for a flight recently. As I entered the security check queue, I asked the lady guiding folks if she knew how long the queue would take. I asked her this in the off chance I’d need to request folks to move ahead of the line.
Her response – “Sir, this is why we say you need to get in earlier for your flight next time. Please get into this line”
I racked up a fair bit of airport experience in my past life as a management consultant. So her cryptic response didn’t create any feelings of anxiety. But it easily could have in other situations.
It turned out that the security queue moved quick and I made it to the gate with time to spare. But her response stuck with me as it got me thinking about times when I might have made the same mistake.
For starters, there were at least 3 alternative responses to that question. Examples –
(1) [Neutral] I don’t know how long but I would suggest getting into the line immediately so we can get you past security as soon as possible.
(2) [Helpful] Don’t worry – you can always ask folks ahead of you to help you if you are late.
(3) [Very helpful] It’ll only take 10 minutes. Don’t worry – you’ll make it with time to spare.
Instead, she took the moment to give me unhelpful advice.
I wonder how many times I’ve done this to others – choosing to give them unhelpful “I told you so” advice instead of finding a constructive path to progress. The number is definitely not zero.
When people are worried about something in the moment, find ways to help them deal with the worry. There’ll come a time when you’ll be able to reflect on the situation and help prevent worry in the future.
But that’s for later.
Be constructive first, be right/wise/insightful later.