Fight or Flight: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

The best leaders take responsibility for their emotions and reactions.


It is August 9th, 2010. You have just arrived at the Pittsburgh airport and you’re beginning the process needed to fly to New York on Jet Blue Flight 1052.

You made it through check in, security check, and are in the midst of boarding. You find a spot for your carry-on amongst the hustle and bustle of everyone else and finally get settled into your seat. Captain communicates he is ready to proceed, when you hear another voice communicate, “I’ve been abused by a passenger…I QUIT.”

You look back and realize one of the flight attendants said this. In that moment, this flight attendant – who had worked in the industry for 20 years – opens a refrigerator, takes out two beers and proceeds to leave the airplane via one of the exit doors down an inflatable chute.

After years of being a flight attendant, Steven Slater made a choice that forever changed the trajectory of his life and career.

As a passenger you’re no longer going anywhere, and you’ve just witnessed an individual experience and emotional meltdown.

What Steven may not have recognized at the time of the incident is he had two choices – to fight or take flight (although, not in the way all the passengers were hoping). To fight, wouldn’t necessarily mean to literally fight with the difficult individual he was dealing with, but rather find the strength to stay, deal with, and continue his job. Instead, he took flight

– leaving the aircraft in a dramatic fashion, leaving a flight full of passengers stranded on the tarmac.

Is it necessarily to take abuse from hostile individuals who may spew negative, derogatory, and/or hurtful things?

Not at all. However, our response to negative experiences will determine our ability to navigate life successfully. We all find ourselves in those moments where two options are presented before us – do we stick with the situation at hand, deal with it in an emotional mature way – or figuratively (not literally) “fight”?

Or, do we cower at the challenge and find ourselves taking flight in order to avoid the situation altogether?

Most of us don’t have an escape hatch to jump from to leave our stresses and difficult coworkers/clients/ family members behind. We’re all experiencing variations of similar stresses, and as a result we’re walking around with unresolved emotions that aren’t dealt with properly.

What’s the solution for us all? A greater concentration in and development of our own emotional intelligence (EQ). It’s a buzz word being used more and more in today’s business hot topics – stressing the need to rationally deal with the pressures of today.

Ultimately, EQ allows us to anticipate and respond appropriately to any given situation we encounter.

Next page: Acknowledge and Improve

Chuck Garcia
Chuck Garcia
Chuck is an author, executive coach, keynote speaker, and CEO of Climb Leadership International. He coaches executives on public speaking and leadership communication. A 25-year veteran of Wall Street, he spent several of those in leadership positions at Bloomberg, BlackRock, and Citadel. He is also adjunct associate professor at Columbia University where he teaches leadership communication in The Fu Foundation Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Science. He leverages his business leadership experience, as well as his hobby of mountain climbing, to provide an effective teaching narrative for professionals applying his tools and techniques. In his book A Climb to the Top, an Amazon best seller, draws on years of coaching and consulting experience to explain how you can become a powerful and persuasive communicator. Chuck is a graduate of Syracuse University and has a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership. Website

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