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Gustin Partners | August 30, 2016 |

The Power of Pleasantness

By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy

There is a lot of anger floating around the world these days. If you travel frequently you probably bump into folks who are “angry” about not being upgraded; “angry” about the long lines at TSA; “angry” about having to check a bag that doesn’t fit into the overhead compartment; “angry” about flights which are delayed or canceled; and/or “angry” about the 280 pound guy snoring in the seat next to you.

If you drive in Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and/or Orlando you are no doubt familiar with motorists “angry” that they can’t go as fast as they want independent of weather and/or traffic conditions.

If you attend conferences you have probably bumped into attendees who are just “angry” at everything – their life, their boss, their company, and/or the various speakers at the podium. I hypothesize that an important part of leadership is figuring out how to combat the negativity introduced into the work environment by these lower-case “a” angry individuals.

Reframing Angry People’s Frame of Mind
My good friend Michael Schrage recently asked a senior executive at JetBlue what customers could do to improve the airline. The queried airline exec paused and essentially responded, “The most important way our customers could improve the airline would be by being more polite.” Enter the power of pleasantness.

Step One in unleashing the power of pleasantness is increasing awareness of the possibility of being courteous such that individuals can self-adjust their behavior.

JetBlue Airways Corp. in an attempt to assist passengers find their better travel angels planned and delivered a series of over-the-top videos posted on Facebook and Twitter to encourage passengers to think about their behavior.

“We wanted to say, ‘We’ve all been there. We get it, and let’s talk about it,’” Lisa Borromeo, JetBlue director of brand management and advertising, said about the clips for #FlightEtiquette.

In 2003, JetBlue created “air-tiquette” cards placed in seatbacks that offered tips for passengers “to be savvy, comfortable, nice and safe while in the air.” The suggestions included saying excuse me, keeping the aircraft clean, stretching out but being considerate of other passengers and keeping your feet out of the aisle.

Step Two in unleashing the power of pleasantness involves establishing a market mechanism whereby actions have consequences [i.e., pleasant behavior is rewarded and “angry” behavior punished]. Outside the extreme case of physically removing poorly behaving passengers from aircraft [which happens more often than you think – the Bangor, ME airport has become a preferred drop-off point for air-rage detainees I have not really seen this attempt at creating a virtuous “actions have consequences” feedback loop. I imagine in a totally sensored environment air crews could identify poorly behaving passengers and digitally tag them such that the next time they travel, they pay more or – more Machiavellian – their checked bags always go missing.

Regarding Road Rage, until the D.O.T. allows good drivers to have anti-bad-driver missile systems I have no suggestions other than patience and the strong suggestion not to make hand gestures.

Regarding individuals who savage conference speakers in their post-event evaluations I suggest a more value-creating set of behaviors. Since most speakers provide their contact information, the dissatisfied attendee could contact the speaker directly [or go through the conference organizers] essentially saying, “these are the questions I expected to have answered during your presentation. You did not answer them. Can you help me?”

What is your organization doing to harness the power of pleasantness?


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