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Cupcakes, Fixed Seat Preferences, and Talking to Randoms

Over the years I have flown millions of miles, literally, ugh! I know how to signal no talking on a long haul flight or how to strike up conversation. Road warriors develop this unique skill early in the travel game. But as I reflect on the things that connect us, it may not be the best approach. A friend labelled me a talker to “randoms”, which I quickly denied. But seriously why not…After some reflection I accepted this new label. It’s in the conversations with randoms that I have learned so much.

Yesterday, on my flight the gentlemen next to me commented, on how good my coconut cupcake looked and that he might be jealous. I told him don’t be jealous of this one, save that special emotion for the red velvet cupcake I had waiting to board the flight.  We exchanged that southern raised gleam in our eyes and smiled. Which sparked a ten-minute conversation on the merit and appropriate times to have red velvet anything. He was a fan of Red Velvet Oreo cookies and recommended them as an emergency fix, to use as needed.

One particular random airplane conversations grew into a 12-year friendship. It all started with fixed seat preferences and The Economist. (More on this in an upcoming podcast release.)

Here are a few tips to start deeper conversations that lead to stronger connection.

Most of us engage in level one conversation, which is the common “Hello”. Sometimes with familiar faces in the elevator, we move to level two conversation, “Hi, how are you?”. The trick to move beyond the surface is to ask an open ended level three question. The one asked by my 12-year airplane friendship was…“Aren’t you a little young to read The Economist in public?” The perfect millennial opening question, that lead to why we both read the magazine, world views, and economic policy decisions. At the time I did not know that my seat companion was getting her Ph.d and our conversation was in her sweet spot of research and teaching. My mind was blown on theories, connections, and use of social capital in decision making. Absolutely, more in the podcast.

Try asking a level three question to a peer, your manager, or direct report. It may surprise you how can shift your connection and increase productivity, with a random Level 3 question.

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