Communication Skills

Words to Say It

I’m not the hat wearing type. If I were, I’d be tipping it to the majority of TSA (Transportation Security Administration) workers. I wish everyone provided the upbeat, positive customer service that our government’s TSA employees provide.

I’m in airports constantly. My Lifetime Platinum on American Airlines and Chairman’s Preferred status on America West/USAirways help prove that. Most people take a car, bus or train to work. I take a plane. Which is why I believe that I have the right to say that TSA rocks.

In the Canton/Akron airport this week, I was behind a man – maybe he was 20 – with an illegal sized plastic bag (gallon type) and it was stuffed with toiletries. This, of course, is a problem. But not to the TSA guy. He took the bag out and said to the man, “You have the right idea here, Sir. This is great that you did this. Now we just need to make a few changes to help you.” TSA guy pulls out a quart size bag and says, “This is what your liquids need to fit into. Let’s see how we can do that.” And then he helps the man go through his items to squish them into the proper size bag. When TSA guy comes across a giant-sized hair spray can, he explains the traveler’s options. He talks to the traveler as if it’s the first time he has ever had to explain the liquid rules (though I know it’s more like the 80th time that day). He is patient, clear and respectful. With the hair spray discarded, everything fit into the new legal sized bag. They shake hands and the traveler leaves to catch his flight.

It’s a lesson in choosing words. What if the TSA guy had said, “This is wrong,” or, “Don’t you read,” or “Can’t you follow directions,” or “You been out of the house lately, kid?” or “This stuff can’t go,” or “What’s up man? You dumb or what?”

A shout out to the TSA folks at Sky Harbor Airport, too. You take what could be a miserable detail of travel and – dare I say it? – (mostly) make it fun! Thanks for telling me that going through security these days gives a whole new meaning to the term “air strip.” I laughed all the way to the plane.
Framing words in a positive way may not always be easy. What it does though is help the other person listen without becoming defensive. When that happens, at the very least, it keeps the conversation going. At best, we get our desired result.

That old expression about it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Nah. It’s both. But how you say what you say will over ride what you’re actually saying. Keep it positive. TSA does.

Has someone helped you save face and feel safe, even though you were wrong, so that you were open enough to do it right? Let’s talk here!

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