It may have been the worst executive decision by a major airline in recent history.

And if you follow the airline industry, that's saying something.

Of course, I'm talking about United's recent move to replace quarterly employee performance bonuses (which could add up to over $1,000 per year) with a new "lottery" system, in which only about 1.6 percent of employees would win larger prizes, like a new car or up to $100,000 in cash.

My colleagues Bill Murphy and Chris Matyszczyk have covered this story in earnest since it emerged over the weekend, including the outrage United employees voiced following the initial announcement. But as Murphy reported yesterday, United is now hitting the brakes on its new program.

Here's the follow-up email United President Scott Kirby sent employees (hat tip to Bill Murhpy's column):

Dear United colleagues, 

Since announcing our planned changes to the quarterly operations incentive program, we have listened carefully to the feedback and concerns you've expressed.

Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you.

So, we are pressing the pause button on these changes to review your feedback and consider the right way to move ahead. We will be reaching out to work groups across the company, and the changes we make will better reflect your feedback.

Appreciatively, 

Scott

There's a lot of good in this message, but I believe there are two major lessons to be learned from Kirby's email:

1. Mistakes are inevitable, so don't be afraid to admit when you're wrong.

2. It's never too late to take a pause and listen.

The value of the pause

The pause is an invaluable tool for developing your emotional intelligence, the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you. (Even Steve Jobs used it.) Simply put, to pause means to take time to stop and think before moving forward.

In my forthcoming book, EQ, Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I explain why the pause is so effective:

The pause is the most important of all the emotional tools in your toolbox. To pause, you must take time to stop and think before you speak or act. Doing so can prevent you from saying or doing something you'll later regret.

The pause is easy in theory, difficult in practice. Even if we've developed good self-management skills, factors like added stress or a bad day can inhibit our ability to pause at any given time. That's why it's important to train yourself to use the pause regularly. In time, you'll create a habit of thoughtful response.

Now, you might be thinking: Couldn't United have pressed pause before this fiasco, and saved themselves lots of grief? The short answer is, yes, it could have.

But everyone makes mistakes. The pause gives you the ability to fully benefit from critical feedback, to prevent you from exacerbating those mistakes. For example, United could have freaked out at all the negative publicity, immediately reversed course, and gone back to the old bonus structure. But by pausing and taking time to process its employees' feedback, United has the opportunity to not only improve the structure, but to make workers a part of the process.

It's kind of like when you and your partner get in a fight. Disagreements are unavoidable, but if your partner then pauses to better understand your perspective, and takes it into consideration before finding a solution, you feel listened to and appreciated. It's repeated experiences like this that actually bond you and your partner closer together.

So, business leaders, take note: When your relationship with employees will be long-term. That means mistakes and misunderstandings are inevitable.

When those happen, take a pause and listen. Doing so will build trust and loyalty, strengthening relationships with your people in the process.

Published on: Mar 6, 2018