Observations From Seat 8B

Everybody has a story.

You have one.  I have one. 

And we want someone to listen to our story.  So we try to tell it – but nobody’s listening.  They’re busy telling their own story.

I’m sitting in seat 8B on a 2-hour flight from Portland to Ontario, California.   Sometimes on a plane, I read; sometimes I work.  Tonight, I’m observing.  I’m surrounded by different people, who are all doing different things.

I’m wondering about their stories.

Airplane seats8A is right next to me, sound asleep.  I can’t even guess his story, because he’s just leaning against the window.  But I still wonder.

Just ahead, 7A is probably in her late 80’s.  Through thick, black-framed glasses, she’s reading an article titled, “Modern Techniques for Dating.”  She’s been studying it for the past 15 minutes.

I’d love to know her story.

Behind me, across the aisle in 9C and 9D are two sisters – probably in their late 70’s.  They are talking nonstop, and totally amused with everything the other one says:

“Why haven’t we taken off yet?”

“I don’t know – let me look out the window.”

“What do you see?”

“Oh, there’s another plane landing.  I can see it way off in the distance.  Or at least I see the lights.”

“Then it must be a plane.”

“Or maybe it’s a bird.  Maybe it’s a bird with lights.”

And they start laughing so hard, they’re snorting.  Then they laugh harder because they snorted. 

We’ve been in the air for over an hour now.  They’re still laughing at the things each other says.

I’d love to know their story.  If I were close enough to ask them, they’d probably be laughing too hard to tell it.

8C – directly across the aisle – a late 20’s mom is entertaining her 14-month old.  He’s wearing a grey t-shirt with a red and white embroidered necktie, and has on a grey derby hat.  Look up “cute” in the dictionary and his picture would probably be there. He’s busy with his electronic etch-a-sketch, and loving the time with his mom.

He has a story.  It’s a short story, but it’s a story.

The last woman to board is in 7C.  Another elderly woman, she’s dressed in her traveling best.  A red blazer, tan slacks, and gold jewelry complete the look, evidence that she was stylin’ when she was younger.

And she has a story.

And she’s telling her story.

From the moment she sat down, she’s been talking to 7D – a mid-30’s woman who has the window seat.  It’s a small plane (two seats on each side), so 7D is a captive audience.

But she’s listening.

Actively listening.

I felt sorry for her at first, because 7C is telling her whole life story.  She’s talked about her upbringing, her kids, her late husband, her career, and her journey as a teenager.  She’s talked about where she lived and what she enjoyed throughout her life.

And 7D is asking questions, which prompts 7C to talk even more. 

7C is talking nonstop.  7D is listening nonstop.

God bless 7D.  She’s giving 7C a gift – the gift of listening.  7C will go home tonight feeling valued, because a stranger took the time to care.  7C did 90% of the talking – but she’ll always remember what a good conversationalist 7D was.

As a practicing introvert, I don’t go out of my way to talk to people on airplanes.  Usually, I’ve been talking all day in a seminar, so I’ve used up most of my words.  I usually want to just rest.

But I’m learning how much it means to people when someone listens to their story.  All I have to do is set it in motion, set aside my own agenda, and just listen – and enjoy hearing a good story. 

I want to know why an almost-90-year-old woman is reading about dating.

I want to know what makes someone laugh at nothing until they can barely breathe.

I want to know the 14-month journey of a little, tiny etch-a-sketch artist.

Listen to someone today, and ask them about their story. 

Look into their eyes, and you’ll see their heart.

You’ll fill their emotional tank, and give them a sense of their own value. In the process, you’ll experience the true joy that comes from giving.

When was the last time someone listened to your story?




Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books – including “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys,” “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions,” and “Dealing With the Elephant in the Room.” (See Book page)

  • Cory Shaull

    Mike, I love your posts. They brighten my day and make me think. Your book was great and helped me a lot. I have recommended it to several people. God bless.

  • Phyllis McCall Jew

    I was just on an airplane to Florida and sat between two guys who were both from Florida and really enjoyed listening to their stories. Thanks for the article.

    • Yeah, people are really interesting when we slow down enough to notice. Thanks, Phyllis!

  • Lynn Simonson

    Thanks for the great article, Mike! Within a church setting, we have Stephen Ministers whose entire purpose is to listen and to come alongside people when they are hurting. However, you spoke more to a one time need of someone who just needed that listening ear. As a keen observer of life, you have hit the “nail on the head” with your article. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks, Lynn – I think we all need that “listening ear” – all the time. Just someone to notice that we exist – which we interperet (correctly) to mean, “Hey – you matter to me.” It’s still amazing to me that we have to be reminded to do it . . .