The Blind Spot That Could Have Saved United and American Airlines Millions

The hijacking happened within 20 milliseconds.



The airport security, the flight staff, the passengers, Dr. David Dao,

the American Airlines flight attendant, and the mother kicked off the

flight, were all hijacked by the fear centers of the brain, the Amygdala.

They were unconscious of it, but it created a blind spot in their

decision making and caused them to react from a place of emotion

and perceived threat.







As a result United Airlines lost $225 million in market value and created a

public relations nightmare. The American Airlines flight attendant was

suspended and the mother, who was kicked off the American Airline flight,

has to deal with the traumatic aftermath of the ordeal.



By examining the nature of social interaction and decision making we begin

to understand how these ordeals were preventable. All of the players

involved, from Dr. David Dao, to the Airport Security Staff, to the American

Airlines Flight Attendant, all made decisions based on emotional triggers.

This is a serious blind spot individuals and organizations can’t afford to miss.



Understanding the correlation between emotional and social triggers, and

perceived threats in the brain, can help individuals and organizations

prevent catastrophic situations like the one United and American Airlines

experienced. The emerging field of Neuroleadership can give us a guide on

how to use this information and create tools to change behaviors.



The Institute of Neuroleadership created the SCARF model which identifies

5 social triggers that our brain perceives as a threat. SCARF is an acronym

for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.



When one of these 5 triggers are engaged the brain goes into a protective

fight or flight mode through the neural networks of the Amygdala and Limbic

Brain. As a result the Executive Brain shuts down and we aren’t able to

access higher levels of intelligence. We need this area of the brain to be

functioning at its highest potential since we use the networks of the

Executive Brain to make decisions, initiate moral reasoning, and self




If we look at the players involved in the United and American Airlines

tragedies we can see that their Status, Certainty, and Fairness triggers were

all hit.



The Status Trigger, in my opinion, is probably one of the most powerful

triggers. The reward centers of the brain are activated because human

beings unconsciously place a high value on status. This can be through a

“pecking order,” seniority, or feeling one is “better than.” For example, when

authority is challenged the Status Trigger is activated and an individual is

more likely to react from a place of fear induced threat. Hence, the reaction

of Dr. Dao, Chicago Airport Security, and the American Airlines Flight




Certainty Triggers happen when we are unsure of our future. The brain is a

pattern-identification machine and is constantly trying to predict the future.

The trust centers of the brain need certainty in order to create the right

amount of brain chemistry to feel safe. When we don’t have certainty we

prime ourselves for a fight as Cortisol, Testosterone and Norepinephrine are

released into our brain. This would affect all the players involved in both the

United and American Airlines scenarios.



Fairness triggers create a threat response when we perceive unfair equality

and exchanges. The reward centers of the brain and sometimes the insula,

the area activated when an individual experiences intense emotions such as

disgust, are engaged when we see, for example, a person being kicked off a

flight or we feel we are being singled out. Players involved here: The

passengers, Dr. David Dao, and the mom kicked off the American Airlines





Understanding how the brain processes triggers and perceives threats could

have prevented the catastrophes experienced by United and American

Airlines by:



1. Priming before a flight, before interactions, and before

    communication exchanges. 



2. Understand, identity, and control social triggers during conflict and



3. Create emotional resilience after a conflict or exchange.



The latest brain research from The Neuroleadership Institute has shown

how organizations can improve performance, engagement, motivation, solve

problems and regulate emotions. This research helps leaders create

programs to improve the quality of leadership and leadership programs.



We will always experience triggers whether we are at work, home, or

traveling. Do not allow this blind spot to create fiascos like United and

American Airlines experienced. When you can step back and identify how

triggers affect human interaction and decision making it could make the

difference between profit and market altering losses.








Learn from United and American Airlines. How are social and emotional

triggers affecting your organization, your home life and your personal life?

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