One day, in 1978, Captain Melburn McBroom was flying a plane that was supposed to land at an airport in Portland, Oregon. McBroom had quite a temper and people feared him because he was so explosive.

They had to go into a holding pattern because of an issue with the landing gear. Captain McBroom was really disturbed about solving the landing gear issue. The problem was not being resolved and they continued in the same holding pattern. The co-pilots were watching the gauges that indicated the fuel was getting lower and lower. They were afraid to speak up because they had seen what McBroom could do to people who interrupted him. So they did nothing. They were silent. They watched the gauges get lower and lower and the plane eventually ran out of fuel and crashed, killing ten people.

That tragic example has been used frequently in safety training sessions for those in the flying business.

How often, at your place of work, has someone not spoken up because of fear? Fear that they might look foolish or lose their status. Fear of an emotional outburst on the part of someone else. Fear that they might lose their job. These are all understandable fears.

How is the fuel level on your “plane?” And the co-pilots, how are they—how are you–responding? Have you ever been on a project when something should have been said but nothing was either because someone has seniority or others were afraid of repercussions? Have you ever left a meeting and said something like the following? “Can you believe he said that?” “That idea will never fly.” “That is going to hurt profits.” “Boy she really threw so and so under the bus.”? When these things are said we know something more productive could happen, but is so hard to know what to do. And it takes so much courage. No one wants to stir the pot. We are all reluctant to say or do something that rocks the boat. Conflict is so scary for most of us. But something needs to be said.

When you know that you should say something and you don’t you may be inadvertently contributing to the problem at hand. Silence does not often help a situation that needs an interruption. And there are often costs associated with that lack of interruption. That is why it is expensive silence.

Would you like to break the expensive silence happening in your work world? If your answer is “yes” then I suggest three things:

  1. Grow your emotional intelligence (yes, it is possible, it is not as static as IQ)
  2. Learn how to modulate your amygdala (the part of your brain where the fight, flight freeze response originates)
  3. Imagine contacting me or someone like me for support—you will need it.

Sound easy? It is not. I would be honored to be part of your learning to speak up and out in a way that would help a guy like Captain Melburn McBroom safely “land the plane.”