Close Button
Newsletter Button

Sign up for our newsletter

The latest from Inc. Southeast Asia delivered to your inbox.

By signing up for newsletters, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

With 10 Short Words, This Airline Passenger Taught an Incredible Lesson in Emotional Intelligence, as She Persuaded a Plane Full of People to Support Her

She did seven key things. And she persuaded the entire plane as a result.

Share on
BY Bill Murphy Jr. - 26 Jul 2018

With 10 Short Words, This Airline Passenger Taught an Incredible Lesson in Emotional Intelligence, as She Persuaded a Plane Full of People to Support Her

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

This is a story about an airplane passenger, a viral video--and a lesson in emotional intelligence.

By now you may have seen the video (embedded at the bottom of this post). It has more than 3.5 million views on Facebook in less than 72 hours as of this writing. Thousands of people have shared and commented on it, and media around the world have covered it.

It shows a Swedish student named Elin Ersson, 21, who on Monday boarded a flight from Gothenburg, Sweden to Istanbul, intending to refuse to sit down because another passenger on the plane was due to be deported to Afghanistan.

As long as she stood, she'd realized, the plane couldn't take off--and she hoped to convince the pilot to remove both her and the man who was being deported.

Her fellow passengers were not amused at first. Delaying the takeoff meant delaying them, too. Some reacted angrily; one man tried to grab her phone, even as she live streamed her act of civil disobedience on Facebook.

Then, something extraordinary happened.

Over the course of about 10 minutes, the crowd turned. Ersson got them on her side.

By the time both she and the man who was going to be deported were removed from the plane-exactly what she'd set out to do--she was in tears, after many of her fellow passengers had stood with her in support.

Besides representing a reprieve for the immigrant who was able to stay at least for one more day in Sweden, Ersson's offered a fantastic example of how to win over a crowd, even when it seems their minds are already made up. Here's how she did it:

1. She crafted a simple, compelling message.

Throughout the entire episode, Ersson repeats a variation of the same 10-word phrase several times: "I'm doing what I can to save a person's life." Even most of the passengers who had no idea why she was standing up at first, were willing to listen to her argument after hearing that.

2. She presented a stark choice.

If the man is sent to Afghanistan, Ersson said repeatedly, he will die. Now, we don't know the facts of his case, but let's assume Ersson characterizes it correctly: she frames a stark choice--help me get him off the plane, or else stand by and watch him be condemned.

3. She expressed caring but controlled emotion.

It's clear in the video that Ersson is very passionate about what she's doing. However, even though she's speaking English as a second language, she measures her words carefully, and keeps her reactions under control--even when she's provoked. It's powerful.

4. She has defined goals.

She's not trying to change the entire immigration system in Sweden with one act; she's not even trying to ensure that the man on the plane can stay in Sweden long term. She's only trying to get him off the plane so he can stay for one more day. It's simple, and well-defined.

5. She lowered the ask.

Ersson doesn't ask other people to stand with her. She simply talks about how she hopes others will be patient enough to endure a flight delay while she protests. When a man who apparently stays sitting nevertheless tells her she's doing the right thing, you can see the emotion in her eyes.

6. She demonstrates commitment.

Over the course of the video, it becomes clear that she's 100 percent not going to sit down and cooperate voluntarily. Toward the end, when security is called, but she's increasingly confident that the man will be removed from the plane, too, Errson expresses almost indifference to her own fate. All that matters to her is getting him off the plane.

7. She presents the whole package well.

Let's be honest: It helps that she's pretty. Toward the end, a bunch of young men who are apparently on a soccer team stand up in support and solidarity. I am going to go out on a limb and say that they potentially reacted better to her entreaties than they would have reacted to, say, someone who looks like me.

Regardless, she looks nice, pleasant, and unthreatening--and that's part of why she's successful. Net result? She got what she wanted, at least for a day.

"Most of all, I felt supported by the people on the plane. It was really emotional but I had a mission and I was just making sure I was fulfilling that," she told The Guardian.

Here's the video. Regardless of how you feel about immigration (in Sweden), do you agree with the tactics Ersson used? Let us know in the comments.


inc-logo Join Our Newsletter!
The news all entrepreneurs need to know now.


8 Ways to Use Criticism to Inspire Your Employee

Read Next

GoPro’s Woes Stem From One Simple Mistake

Read Next