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I like sitting at the bar in any given airport. This is where the action can be found — the drama, the silliness, the carefree launch of a full week of mimosas and/or margaritas, the breakups, the awkward small talk of semi-familiar coworkers on their way to the annual trade conference. It all happens right here. (I happen to be sitting at an airport bar now and just overheard a woman say to her spouse, “Make good choices.” He was headed to the restroom. What was that all about?)

I am most drawn in by serious business discussions that can sometimes be overheard at the airport bar. I once witnessed a sharply dressed man vow powerfully into his iPhone that he would end the career of a birthday balloon artist if he or she ever questioned his scheduling philosophy again. Serious business. It made me laugh, and then it made me think.

Even the world of birthday party balloon artistry is truly serious business to those whose livelihoods depend on it. I get so wrapped up in my own life, interests, and career focus that I sometimes forget that each of us lives a reality unique to ourselves. The phone call I overheard was, on the surface, too far removed from my day-to-day life for me to immediately appreciate the situation. Or was it? The guy at the bar was having a contentious moment with a business partner. Now that, I can understand.

Do we fully appreciate the individual realities, both personal and professional, of the people around us every day? What are our friends, clients, coworkers, or the seemingly frustrated servers in the coffee shop really experiencing today? Could our lives and theirs be enriched by simply asking them? Could the lost art of simple person-to-person communication make our day and theirs better?

As an experiment this week, ask three people a single question: “What is the most important thing happening in your life right now?”

When I asked a coworker this question today, he told me, “My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.” When I asked if they have anything special planned, he responded that they were visiting Napa Valley when the recent wildfires began spreading over the area. This led to a much larger discussion about the locals they met, how they were personally affected by the devastation, and how resilient they were in the face of such a disaster. The result of the conversation for me was deep gratitude for the people in my life and empathy for those who are struggling. I also got to know a colleague much better.

A single question greatly opened up my view of the world today. I feel more connected and successful following a brief, intentional conversation that had nothing to do with business.

Just ask. Give it a try and see what happens for you and the people you encounter this week.

Tim Barnett is a construction executive and consultant who specializes in improving operations and business development practices for his friends and clients. He is equally enthusiastic about his studies in philosophy and civil engineering, which explains why he believes that music is mathematics (and mathematics is music) and that time is just a big elliptical hula hoop we travel along more rapidly every year.

In his words, “It’s complicated."

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