Frontier flight 862, Denver to Phoenix. I get on late because I’m on standby for an earlier flight. I have a middle seat, 14B. When I arrive at row 14, there are women sitting in seats A and C. I say hello, stow my bags, and get into my seat.
The woman in 14A smiles at me, looks at the book I have in my hand, and says, “That looks like an interesting book.” I’m reading Laura Lowell’s book 42 Rules of Marketing. We chat a minute about the book and then lapse into some general conversation.
Her name is Cheryl Munsey, and she is an associate for Isagenix, a health and nutrition company. As it turns out, Cheryl and I know a few people in common. And she’s very personable. We chat the whole time the plane is taxiing and through take off.
As soon as the plane is in the air, the woman in 14C rings the flight attendant call button. The flight attendant comes on the loud speaker and says, “We are still in our ascent. Will the person who rang his or her call button turn it off until we reach our cruising altitude? Leave it on only if it’s a real emergency.”
14C leaves the light on. I’m worried that she might be ill. The flight attendant struggles down the aisle. When she arrives at our row, 14C says “I need a pair of headphones. These people are talking too much and driving me crazy.” As she is saying this, she is removing ear plugs.
I feel badly. I tend to speak softly in crowded, enclosed places like airplanes and was surprised that our conversation was annoying her – especially when she was wearing ear plugs. I say to 14C, “I apologize if we were annoying you. I didn’t realize we were speaking so loudly.” She says, “I was trying to sleep,” and puts on the headphones that she got from the flight attendant.
Not a minute later, she rings the call button again. When the flight attendant comes back, she says, “I need another pair. These earphones aren’t drowning out these people.” I thought this was kind of peculiar, as Cheryl and I were stunned by what happened and really hadn’t said anything since her original comment that we were speaking too loudly.
All of this should just go into one of those irritating, bizarre moments in life files and be forgotten. However, it makes a point about personal responsibility and interpersonal competence.
The woman in 14C never told Cheryl and me that we were disturbing her sleep. Instead, she chose to complain to the flight attendant about our conversation. It came across to both Cheryl and me as a pretty hostile gesture. We both wondered why she just didn’t ask us to speak more softly. That’s what an interpersonally competent person would have done. That’s what someone who was taking responsibility for herself and her needs would have done.
It’s called being assertive. Assertive people stand up for their rights, but do it in such a way as not to offend other people. Passive people let others trample on them and don’t stand up for their rights. Aggressive people get what they want, but at the expense of others. In this case, 14C was being aggressive.
Two common sense points here: one, take responsibility for yourself. Tell people how you feel. Don’t let others do things that make your life unpleasant. And two, stand up for yourself in an assertive, not aggressive, way.