As aviation enthusiasts we can be sure with a very high degree of confidence that we will have disagreements with non-aviation enthusiasts from time to time. Maybe the issue will be user fees. Perhaps it will be about funding of an airport project. It might even be about safety, often in the aftermath of a high profile accident or incident that has shaken the non-aviation enthusiast to the bone. Whatever the case, conflict will come our way. It’s a given. We know it will happen. The only questions revolve around when and what the specific topic of concern will be.
So let’s take that knowledge and get ourselves ready. Like it or not, when the discussion gets going every aviation enthusiast who speaks up, jots a line on a social media site, or writes a letter to the editor of their local paper is going to become a target. Perhaps of greater concern is the likelihood that they’ll be perceived as the official spokesperson for all of aviation.
Few if any of us are prepared to take on that role with any confidence.
There are a few key points to keep in mind during times of concern that have the potential to turn into confrontations. They’re pertinent to a discussion of aviation issues, but they’re just as valid when you’re in the workplace when conflicts arise, or at home when spousal differences of opinion occur. Let’s go ahead and call these points what they are; the Big Three Rules For Conflict Resolution.
1. Be respectful. We all learned this one on the playground as kids, but when tempers flare it can be forgotten in the blink of an eye. Always be respectful of your counterpart. Their fears may seem baseless to you, but they’re real points of concern for others. So take their worries seriously. Acknowledge them. That doesn’t mean you have to agree or accept their concerns as valid, but your willingness to at least admit the other person’s concerns are legitimate and understandable can become the first step to diffusing those fears and replacing the knee-jerk response of non-aviation enthusiasts with more thoughtful and well reasoned reactions.
2. Listen. We often assume we know the position of people who have taken a position that’s not in line with ours. Often that assumption is wrong. Be sure to take the time to listen, even encourage the other person to express their concerns. You may find that your argument in favor of the point you felt most central to the issue isn’t even something the other guy is thinking about at all. The best way to understand the other person’s perspective is to listen, learn what they’re worried about, or afraid of, and work productively with those issues rather than the ones you assumed were the most important.
3. Choose your words carefully. Your initial response can set the tone for the discussion as it moves forward. You can make points and begin the process of bringing your opponent over to your side, or you can drive a wedge between the two parties by saying the wrong thing. For example, when a non-aviation enthusiast rails against the reliability of aircraft engines after reading about a crash caused by a stall, don’t blurt out, “Oh that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” While it may seem a less than insightful position from your standpoint, the non-aviation enthusiast is reacting to the news from their own specific frame of reference. Those who don’t fly think of a stall as a mechanical issue having to do with the engine. Pilots know it as an aerodynamic event having to do with the airfoils on the aircraft.
Try something more diplomatic for a first response, such as, “In aviation the term, “stall” has a completely different meaning than it does in the automotive industry. If you’d like I can explain the difference. That might help you understand what happened a bit more clearly.”
Because our perspective on aviation and the aerospace industry is likely to be very different from that of our friends, co-workers, and neighbors, we are uniquely positioned to make others feel more comfortable and accepting about aviation – or build a wall between us that will be difficult to tear down again in the future. The choice is ours. Personally, I prefer to use the Big Three Rules For Conflict Resolution. I just don’t have the bone structure to carry off a fat lip or a black eye well, and I’d rather make friends than enemies any day. How about you?
The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.