Talking to Strangers in the Air

Airplanes offer a unique opportunity for a positive listening experience. Not only are they one of the few public places not yet filled with cellphone shouters, they also place us in close, nearly intimate, proximity to our seatmates for hours. And unless you’re traveling to an industry convention or a secluded resort, there’s a good chance you’ll never see the person next to you again.

The next time you find yourself sharing an armrest with a complete stranger, forget what your mother always told you. Instead of sticking in the earbuds, try striking up a conversation. A neutral comment about the weather, getting to the airport, your destination can signal a willingness to talk; following up with a question will let you know if your seatmate is also interested in talking. If not, respect his or her privacy and read your SkyMall.

If the person next to you wants to interact, remember the first rule of good conversation: “It’s better to be interested than interesting.” Decide to listen totally to the other person. Be attentive, make eye contact, and acknowledge that you are hearing the other person without judgment. Don’t interrupt, don’t think ahead to what you’ll say next, don’t overshare. Ask more questions, make fewer statements.

Remember, a real conversation is a two-handed game. If you start small and listen with an open heart and an open mind, you may find that by the time you touch down, you have both had a transformational experience.

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