The crowd at the airline gate was substantial. There was a little over a hundred people all crowded into a small space near the counter as the gate attendant started to announce that the flight would be boarding soon. Only 30 feet away and well within earshot of the attendant were dozens of empty seats. As the attendant started to call different groups to board, he became frustrated as the crowd became entangled together. It was close to chaos.


He made several announcements asking the people to go sit down and spread out. He explained that most of the crowd wouldn’t be able to board yet and that they would all get on the plane. At one point, he became so frustrated, he told the crowd that they were getting out of control. The people didn’t sit and continued to crowd towards the counter. Eventually, the flight was boarded.


I watched this occur with great interest. In any organization, managers work hard to try to figure out how to get people to do something. This was a clear cut case of people giving a very clear message to a crowd of people who weren’t following the directions. What was going on?


Sometimes, it is easy to blame the people. People just don’t care anymore. They do what they want to do and can’t be told what to do.


Some might blame the airline attendant for not communicating effectively and clearly. He could have been friendlier or perhaps louder. The attendant and his coworkers were clearly frustrated and even angry.


As I watched, I remembered what our Chief Executive Officer, Randy Mayes, often says, “People do things for a good reason, but it is THEIR reason and not YOURS”. Why were the people standing right by the gate?


Minutes before boarding, the attendant had made an announcement that the flight was very full and that many passengers with carry-on luggage would have to check their bags at the gate. Not wanting to check their bags, people got up and congregated nearby the gate so that when their group was called, they would be near the front of the line giving them a better chance of finding overhead space for their carry-on luggage and avoiding having to go to baggage claim.


These interactions are sometimes so simple that we miss these patterns. The attendants were frustrated and the situation wasn’t very unusual. I’m guessing they experience this every day and wonder how stupid people can be. The truth is that people are very capable and were only responding to an unintentional game that was established by the airline policy of charging for checked bags creating more carry-on luggage.


I see managers and business owners struggle with these types of things on a regular basis. They see people doing things they don’t like and they don’t think about why they act the way they do. They apply their own knowledge and their own perspective when the real answers can be found by their people’s knowledge and perspective.


The key to mastering how to work with people is to work WITH the people. When your team doesn’t act in a way you would expect, seek to understand. You might not like what you see, but if you are open to their perspective, you will learn the key to changing the behavior.