Earlier today I went to meet three local men for lunch. They’d asked me to put on my city commissioner hat and come listen to their idea for improving the quality of life in our little burg. Being an agreeable sort I took up the challenge, drove to the outskirts of town and pulled into the parking lot of a terrific southern eatery where calories are plentiful and cholesterol is not a dirty word.
Outside of politics, the men I was meeting have no professional connection to me. One is a minister, another is an educational consultant, and the third is a retired coach. I’d met two of these gentlemen before but the third was a mystery to me. I didn’t know his full name or his background until we were introduced on the porch, just outside the restaurant.
This is where it gets interesting. The third man didn’t try to impress me with his credentials. He didn’t comment on how well I was dressed, or how much he liked my car. Instead he said this, “My father flew B-29s in the war, you know.”
That simple comment, carefully planned to be delivered to an aviation nut like me, worked perfectly. We hit it off just fine, right from the start. We talked about the monstrous size of the B-29 cockpit. It’s not cramped and claustrophobic like most cockpits. Sitting in the front seat of the B-29 is like sitting in a comfy chair and gazing out the living room window. It’s roomy, spacious, and at least a little bit intimidating. So we talked about B-29 stuff for a while. He told me about a couple missions his dad flew. I shared with him that I’d spent two days with Paul Tibbets once upon a time. Tibbets is the top of the pyramid for B-29 fliers, and a genuine historical figure. He countered with a story about his father’s Superfortress being shot down over the Pacific, and how a good portion of the crew was taken by sharks while they bobbed in the water waiting for rescue.
When a man tells you a story like that, you know he respects the hardships encountered along the way as his dad did his best to survive for long enough to get home, get married, and have a son who would grow up to share the stories of his father’s life.
We bonded over aviation stories, and we did it in only a few minutes. Each of us learned something important about the other, and we learned it quickly, all because we shared stories that conveyed real emotions based on a common interest in aviation.
There’s a lesson in that lunch meeting.
It’s good to know who you’re dealing with. That’s especially true if you want something – even if that something is just the rapt attention of the person across the table from you. It’s human nature: We listen more intently to people we like, as opposed to people we have no particular interest in.
The three men I had lunch with today asked nothing of me but my attention and an open mind. I had no trouble fulfilling either of those wishes. But I have to admit the process was easier, and more enjoyable, because I knew that at least one of them had an understanding of my world, and had an appreciation for the level of effort that goes into being an aviation professional – whether military or civilian.
That’s worth keeping in mind when any of us have a reason to get together with the airport manager, a local bureaucrat, or an elected official who we want to do some sort of business with. There is commonality here. Just as a professional speaker will often open with a joke, or some lighthearted patter that seemingly has nothing to do with the topic of his or her speech, we can begin our interactions with management and government folks in a way that defuses any pent-up apprehension that might exist. If they’re aviation people, we can get the ball rolling to a more important conversation by asking about their recent cross-country flight to see grandma for the holidays. If they’re not aviation folks, maybe they’d light up like a Christmas tree if we engaged them on the ranking of their alma mater after the big game this past weekend.
Whatever the subject is, there is progress to be made. And first impressions really do matter. Your mom was right on that point, no doubt. So remember to do a little homework before you walk into your next meeting with airport management. Find out something about the person you’re meeting with that you can use to soften the process of introductions and initial interactions. It won’t make your argument any stronger, and it won’t change the numbers of whatever you’re proposing. But it just might make the process of introducing your ideas and goals that much more enjoyable. A relaxed and confident pitchman is much more likely to make a sale than a tense, nervous presenter would. That’s not just good advice for salesman. It’s true for airport users who are hoping to renegotiate hangar rates, too.
Bond my friends. Bond and be well.
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.