Precautionary Landings

Years ago, Tom and I took a much-needed vacation on the island of Kauai with a short side trip to Oahu. There’s a good reason they call it paradise. Hawaii is serene, breathtaking, and majestic, especially the NaPali Coastline. Even if you’ve never been there, you’ve seen it in movies like Jurassic Park or South Pacific. We were triple lucky as we were able to experience it from an oceanic perspective via a zodiac boat tour (complete with trips into spectacular sea caves) as well as on foot when we hiked the famous trail through the rain forest down to a secluded beach for lunch. But the most comprehensive and impressive way we saw it was from the air via an early morning helicopter ride. As we hovered over waterfalls cascading off massive verdant cliffs, marveled at rainbows and turquoise ocean water, and flew directly into a small valley that we learned was the “wettest place on earth” with an average of 472 inches of annual rain… I was so awestruck! I never once thought about my safety or a potential problem with our helicopter.

And we never had one … but a few days later on a monthly coaching call with one of my local clients, the client kindly asked about my vacation, and when I cited the helicopter flight as one of the highlights, he said he could relate. Years ago, he had taken the same helicopter ride with his family, and it turned out to be memorable indeed. They took off and immediately had the same experience as we did, immersed in the majesty of it all when suddenly lights flashed and alarms sounded and the pilot announced through their headphones that he would be making a “precautionary” landing… which he did without another word, straight down. They landed safely, if not a little rattled, and it turned out this was a brand new helicopter and it was later determined the alarms had been the result of alert-system malfunction. The helicopter itself had been operating just fine.

They were able to re-take the ride once everything checked out but … he said, “I never forgot those words: ‘We’re making a precautionary landing’.”

The choice of words struck me too. Precautionary. No panic, no emergency, not mandatory, not even immediate. Precautionary. Implying we don’t know if anything is wrong but to be safe, we’ll take the precaution. My client relayed what could have created sheer panic in him and his wife and children was mitigated by the pilot’s wise choice of words and calm demeanor… a choice that communicated control, confidence, safety, and anticipated success.

In business, and particularly in healthcare, this skill is always important to possess and master, the skill of choosing words that communicate those same qualities to our clients and co-workers. We dispense meds as a precaution instead of “in case of emergency.” When tempers flare, we slow and lower our voice, take a breath, kindly smile and say “I’m confident we can find an answer” or “I’m positive we’ll work this out.” When the fire alarms go off, as a precaution, we’ll be exiting the building. When we enter our boss’s office, notice the difference in your reception when you announce there is a “problem” versus a “situation or challenge”… even better, an “opportunity.”

Panic, frenzied emotions, and poorly-chosen words exacerbate accidents and mistakes while calm actions, well-chosen words and positive expectations facilitate order and heighten chances for successful outcomes. This has never been more true than now during this pandemic.

During this time, think of occasions where a wise and calming choice of words could make the difference with clients, team members, and even your family. Make your goal to be known as the one who keeps your cool, makes wise decisions, and leads people in a crisis to success.