Feb 072012

I was on a plane last night. I grabbed my book, stowed my bag and sat down. And stuck out my hand.

“Hi, I’m Dan,” I said.

“I’m Andrea,” she replied.

We chatted for about five minutes, the plane pulled out of the gate and we lapsed into silence. I read my book and she slept.

Planes are great places to meet people. It is a shared experience of sitting in a tube for a couple hours with an anonymous group of people you will never see again. What else are you going to do?

I have observed most people don’t introduce themselves on planes. It is very easy to ignore everyone and do your own thing. However, a simple effort of an introduction is courteous and simply the right thing to do. You don’t have to give more than a first name – few will remember it anyway. Spend a couple minutes in small talk and it will quickly become apparent if you will continue to talk or not. Sometimes, like last night, silence is fine. Occasionally, it is a wonderful opportunity to meet the most fascinating people.

A few years ago, I was flying on a particular stormy night. My seat mate was clearly distressed by the turbulence. We hadn’t even taken of yet. My quick  introduction led to an intense conversation that lasted the entire flight. Not only did it take her mind off the gut wrenching bounces, we became good friends in a couple of hours. I have been to her store several times, which became a favorite of my daughters and she sold a few of my pens.

On another flight, I was lucky enough to get bumped to first class, where I sat next to one of the heads of Public Broadcasting. We had a wonderful conversation and I learned a lot about programing decisions and how PBS is put together. It was a crash course in running a public media entity  I would not have been able to get at any university. He was even kind enough to mail my children a few video tapes of their favorite programs.

I have met all sorts of people on planes. I’m not advocating being an annoying seat mate, chattering on about nothing when the other person just wants to work on a spreadsheet that is due. It only takes a little observation to be able to tell if the other party is interested in a conversation or just pleasantries. Be open to their needs as well as your own. However, the chance to make a new friend is rare. There aren’t many opportunities to just sit an talk with strangers anymore. Take advantage of the chance to practice the art of conversation. It’s not like you will see them ever again. On the other hand, you might make a new friend or learn about something totally new.

Jan 312012

Please never miss an opportunity to do the right thing. I ran across this story today. Bill Gates wrote a letter to Steve Jobs before he died. It touched Steve so much, he kept it next to his bed to the end, according to his wife. I am glad Bill didn’t disclose what he wrote in the letter. It wasn’t for us.

I told Steve about how he should feel great about what he had done and the company he had built. I wrote about his kids, whom I had got to know.

Do you have a friend feeling down, sick or just in need of a virtual hug? Write them a quick note. It doesn’t have to be much. Four short lines are more than enough to let them know you care. Who knows how much it will mean to them?

C’mon. Do it right now. I am.

Nov 232011

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We have much to be thankful for and I hope you take a few minutes to reflect on your blessings. This is the time of year when things slow down a bit (and in some workplaces, a lot) with people taking time off work. I know my office will be pretty much shut down around Christmas/New Years. My previous employers were just about the same. As a project manager, we always plan for a slowdown in the work for the last three weeks of the year.

So what if you are still working and not vacationing somewhere warm? Now is a perfect time to take my Holiday Challenge. Pick up the phone and make an appointment with someone on your network. Go to lunch or just get together for a chat. Chances are they will have some free time around the holidays as well and will be glad you called. Take a few minutes to reconnect and find out what they are up to. Find a way to give them a hand.

If you are up for a real challenge, expand your network by meeting with someone new. This is the perfect season to do it. Many are in a giving mood and the calendars are a little more relaxed. Some people are more rushed, so be flexible. However, I know as I get closer to the end of the year, my ability to accomplish tasks is severely impacted by the absence of others. I always have time available for odd tasks. Networking is one of those perfect fillers.

Have a holiday party coming up? Dreading standing around not knowing what to do? Take the challenge! These parties are a perfect opportunity to meet someone and talk for a few minutes. You never know who you’ll meet and it can be real fun. I love going to my wife’s work Christmas parties. I don’t have to worry about office politics and there is always someone sitting bored. This is the perfect chance to strike up a conversation an find out something about them. Who knows – you may be the best thing that happens to them all night long.

Make this season bright by meeting someone new or renewing a old relationship. Take the challenge and make an appointment today. Let me know how it works out. I bet you will have a wonderful time.