United and Pepsi show why overthinking at work is bad

It’s clear that worrying too much is bad for you, but two recent events showed just how badly things can play out when you overthink a situation. There are ways to choose the best, simplest path out of a bad situation, and you should: anxiety is a terrible teacher.

Where the United Airlines CEO went wrong

In the wake of the United Airlines dragging incident, CEO Oscar Munoz caught heat for his varied responses to the situation.

CNBC reported that he called the passenger “disruptive and belligerent” in an email to employees, which was hugely unpopular.

The cleanup required a lot of small pivots in interviews, as Munoz tried to figure out the right way to fix things.

Later, for instance, Munoz acknowledged the public outcry and added, “…I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way…” Munoz said in a statement.  

He also appeared on Good Morning America to further clear things up, saying that “this will never happen again,” and acknowledging that “…my initial words fell short of truly expressing the shame.”

So the fact that Munoz kept changing his tune worked against him, especially since airlines often operate in a rules-based, militaristic fashion. After all, the whole point of many rules is to make it easier to work as a team.

As a result of Munoz’s flip-flopping response to the event, his rise up the corporate ranks has been halted. USA TODAY reported that Munoz will no longer become chairman of the company’s board of directors, according to an SEC filing.

Being honest and compassionate at first will save further trouble

How is this overthinking? Simple: if you’re wrong, apologize. If you’re worried about accepting blame, sidestepping responsibility or otherwise trying to consider all the angles, you’ve already lost. Choose the simplest and most honest path and you’ll save yourself a lot of worry.

It took United a few weeks to craft a response with 10 policy changes— including that it will “increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000” and that it will “limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.”

Some changes will reportedly go into effect right away, while “others will be rolled out through the remainder of the year.”

“…Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: our policies got in the way of our values and procedures interfered in doing what’s right…” Munoz said in a statement.

Pepsi’s commercial misstep

It was the advertising flop heard around the entire world: Pepsi’s protest-inspired ad featuring Kendall Jenner was called “tone-deaf” by Vanity Fair and even led to a scathing “second-by-second breakdown” by the Washington Post.

Pepsi removed the ad and issued an apology — to Kendall Jenner and to viewers.

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position,” the statement said.

Although Pepsi didn’t seem to rush its statement, if the company hadn’t used such a narrow perspective as a premise for the commercial, it probably wouldn’t have had to backpedal the way it did, or issue a formal statement.

There are ways to dial things down when you get too anxious.

How to prevent worrying too much

Sometimes your mind races with thoughts of where you could go wrong— like how something could slip through the cracks at work, or how tomorrow could shape up to be a bad day— but there are steps you can take to curb similar thoughts.

Stop dwelling to let go of fear

Try letting go of things you can’t change.

A 2013 study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that “Rumination is a well-established risk factor for the onset of major depression and anxiety symptomatology in both adolescents and adults. “

Remember helpful acronyms to defeat anxiety

There are many helpful acronyms that experts tell you to use when your anxiety has painted a picture of terror in your mind. One of our favorites: “FEAR” stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real.” Are you psyching yourself out by interpreting people’s behavior too much? Really stand back and look at the whole picture.

Practice mindfulness to calm down at work

Taking the time to be quiet can go a long way.

A review of 19 studies in the Clinical Psychology Review found that “results suggested that mindfulness-based and cognitive behavioural interventions may be effective in the reduction of both rumination and worry…”

If you’re a train commuter, you might want to check out this short piece by the New York Times on how to practice mindfulness on the subway.

Think of all the positive alternatives instead

Lolly Daskal, executive leadership coach, founder and CEO of Lead From Within, wrote about how to stop overthinking.

“In many cases, overthinking is caused by a single emotion: fear. When you focus on all the negative things that might happen, it’s easy to become paralyzed. Visualize all the things that can go right and keep those thoughts present and up front,” Daskal writes.

So before freaking out when things don’t go as planned, try not to overthink the situation so you can relieve some stress and communicate clearly.