A Conversation with a Stranger

It seems that the stints at home have been few and far between over the last few months. Travel for work has become a consistent part of life. Toss in new clients and projects, weddings, my own wedding in about six weeks and you have a pretty intense collection of things that keep me busy. Living by the cliche “One day at a time” has never meant so much in order to limit stress and a creeping sense of being overwhelmed. Limiting that last thing means glancing at the calendar to insert new events while reminding myself not to stare at it too long. After all, it’s not polite to stare.

I decided to write today not so I could convey how “extra” busy things will remain until mid-October – although that could have a therapeutic effect, but rather to share my observations from the start of this trip. A trip that will take me from coast to coast and ten locations in just over a month. It deals with human communication and I am coming to you from a flight from Boston to Phoenix.

I have a prime seat. I’m in the last aisle seat at the rear of the plane. Beside me at all times is a line of people waiting to relieve themselves except during takeoff and landing. Lucky for me! I didn’t win the seat lottery. I finished the book I had with me in the first hour and there is no wireless on the five hour flight. Okay enough with what sounds like complaining. I just wanted to paint a picture.

The realization that hit me after finishing Max Lucado’s “Fearless” a few minutes ago is that we are never in control and that fear does nothing but reek havoc on our lives. That’s where Faith comes in. The stronger you are in that department the better off you will be. All these people have boarded this plane with faith or fear, some with probably a little of both or maybe a feeling of neither (not sure what you are if that happens – better pinch yourself). I see different clothes, shoes, hairstyles, hear different languages and children buzzing – but one thing I notice is that people are generally pleasant and find gratification in the slightest of human acknowledgement. A “thank-you” “God bless you” after a sneeze or a simple smile.

This takes me back to last night. I was sitting down at the bar in the Hilton to eat dinner and partake in a few refreshing adult beverages after a long day. The conversation with the gentleman next to me started over an infield base hit that broke up a no-hitter in the seventh inning of the Yankee – Rangers game. By the end of the conversation, we had talked about how both he and his wife travel all the time and only really see each other when they travel together by using the airline miles and American Express rewards. He admits that it is less than ideal and a constant stressor on their relationship. Their daughter has grown up and as he’s talking, mentions that he had promised his wife he would be back in New Jersey tonight. But after his flight got cancelled, that was out.

Things had turned from baseball to life in a hurry. He and his wife were leaving in two days to go to California to spread the ashes of his uncle. He was killed on a late night bike ride in a hit-and-run accident. Why is a 74-year old taking a bike ride at 2 a.m.? He had been a marathon runner for years and then transitioned to riding when his knees got bad. He would take late night rides because he couldn’t sleep. The driver hadn’t been found. He added that his uncle had housed many of his family members at different times because a handful of them had decided to relocate out west. He then apologized for choking up. For that moment, I shared his pain. We have all dealt with tragedy, loss of loved ones and friends, loss of jobs and plenty of disappointment.

I did mention a little about myself: why I was traveling, a ten second overview of the business, my future wife and even the prospect of kids. However, I realized that my role in this conversation was to listen. That’s something that doesn’t always come easy for me, but I’m working on it.

The conversation ended with a handshake and mutual well wishes from both sides. I needed to get some sleep before flying to California myself, which started with this flight to Phoenix.

People can give you all the advice in the world about business and communication, but if you don’t learn how to listen and spend productive time thinking, you will fail. Business is a deal between human beings where both receive a mutual benefit or at least the promise of a genuine effort at attaining some sort of goal. This wasn’t a business conversation, but it could serve as a decent model. I am not endorsing that you talk to strangers, but I am saying that you can learn a lot from one conversation. We all deal with the same things in life no matter where we come from. Don’t forget the human angle when dealing with people and clients. Let that be part of the foundation for your business relationships. You’ll be surprised how graifying it is when people realize you don’t just care about the invoice at the end of the job. Sometimes a perspective check from a stranger is all you need to remember that.

By the way, “Home” by Daughtry just started playing on my ipod.


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