Talk to that person next to you

I came back from France a few weeks ago and sat next to a perfect stranger for about three-quarters of a 10h-long flight from Paris to Dallas. We didn’t talk for most of the trip because we are both French, and that’s what French people do (or don’t do). We stamp strangers as “uninteresting people” until proven wrong.

We assume that they won’t be worth talking to. And they often aren’t.

 Sharing the same armrest

A good friend of mine is a superstar when it comes to making connections and finding interesting people. She can bind and find something to talk about with pretty much anybody. She tried to teach me but I still have a long way to go: We don’t really acknowledge people or smile when traveling by ourselves, making us hard persons to talk to in the first place. This is surely due to being oppressed by smelly people in the Parisian metro.

So I talked to that guy. After all, we were sharing the same armrest.

The last two hours of the flight ended up being too short for what we had to talk about. He was going to Brazil for a consulting job, but his main thing in life was to invest in start-ups between France and South America. Moving to Brazil instantly sounded pretty sexy to me.

I learned more about start-ups and fundraising in that last hour of the flight than during most start-up conferences I’d been to. We ended up having a deep conversation that neither of us expected to have on a plane, which made it a bit more personal. We exchanged business cards and this might not be the end of it. I’ll send him and email, and I hope he will too.

 Finding the golden goose

One of my favorite things to do when I’m in a public place is people-watching. Just sitting around and try to guess what kind of life people around me might be living. I usually think that most of them are too different from me to be worth talking to. But even if I classify somebody as “worth it”, chances are that I will not make the first step to go randomly talk to them. And I don’t like being like that.

It’s not about being shy (I’m not), it’s just that my brain still thinks that it might not be worth my time. Most of the time it isn’t, but the few times that work could end up changing your life – you could meet your significant other or co-founder like this. So I am trying to force myself to handle the small-talk that could lead to deeper conversations. And gosh, I hate small-talk.

 The follow up game

Who knows what will happen next with that guy from the plane? (edit 6 months later: Nothing, no contact whatsoever. Well, it was worth a shot)

I just got a lottery ticket by making the simple effort of talking to a guy next to me in a plane. This is my way to try to get out of being unlucky, I took an option for the future that I will have to foster. I will follow up, and I hope he will too.

It takes a lot of work to go visit somebody overseas when they invite you, or handle the trouble to have a longer layover somewhere to be able to grab a drink with somebody you haven’t seen in ages. Yes, I’m talking about this girl you met in high-school. Or this dude you met during your last trip to Thailand that you haven’t talked to in the past year.

 Get back in the real world

Yes, it is easier to talk to people around you when you have something in common – being at a conference, sports event, through common friends, etc. But the most interesting people might be right there under your nose.

So put your smartphone back in your pocket and talk to that person next to you.


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