The Stranger in the Next Seat: Rock-Star or Bore?

80531426_4f2b17ed88_oLast week I sat in the San Francisco Chinese consulate office amid a large crowd, and I did something unusual. I asked the man next to me a question. Serendipity struck: He was a United Airlines flight attendant and I was there on United business, too, for an upcoming trip. For the next hour we chatted, and I learned more interesting information in that hour about a flight attendant’s life and his airline than I had in the previous year. Before I knew it, my number was called and I headed to Window #8 to apply for my visa.

This led me to wonder how many opportunities I may have missed with extraordinary strangers sitting right next to me. Nowhere could that be more true than in travel.

As an introvert, I tend to keep to myself. My conversation is often with a book, not the person in the aisle seat. But I’m surprised at how often a random conversation can turn into something extremely useful. On a recent trip, I met the most interesting seatmate ever, and he gave me invaluable tips on how my son could craft an engineering degree that would jumpstart a career. Didn’t expect that when I boarded.

My seatmate strategy is to notice clues that we may have something in common (e.g. reading material), signs the person may be open to conversation (body language), and that he/she has some social acumen (will be able to pick up signals when it’s time to stop talking). It’s good to have a couple of openers at the ready (the classic: Are you starting a trip or coming home?), as well as a closer (Well, I need to get some work done). The key is to maximize the chance of talking with a rock-star, and minimize the risk of talking with a total bore.

So I’m interested in being a little more social on the road. How about you? Do you talk to seatmates when you travel? And if so, what strategies do you use to keep it “safe”?

Photo Credit: Flickr/Doug