We can learn a lot about the human condition when riding together in a metal tube in the sky. To me, every flight is like a giant microcosm of who we really are–the best or worst of us can emerge when we’re crammed together breathing one another’s air.

I’ve written before about telltale behaviors that can surface and what it says about us, like what to take away about the behavior of tilting your chair back past the upright position.

I believe signals abound on the emotional intelligence front too, if you know where to look. A powerful indicator of one’s EQ lies in one simple behavior.

If you’re sitting within direct sight of the flight attendant as he/she gives safety instructions, do you pay attention?

The flight attendants’ number one priority is to keep passengers safe (it’s not, actually, to fulfill your every need as soon as you sit down). This is a critical element of their job, and yet every day, thousands upon thousands of people sit within feet of these airline employees, paying absolutely no … attention … whatsoever, bereft of any signals of empathy (a key component of emotional intelligence).

Would you do that at work to an employee giving you the weekly status report? If you were the one giving the safety manual walkthrough, how would this make you feel?

As a professional keynote speaker, I can assure you, I can still get distracted if I look out into the audience and see someone on a cellphone–even when I know that note taking on mobile devices is common nowadays.

By no means am I perfect–far from it. Even as someone who has the gumption to soapbox about the need to return to basic human decency, I still have my days where I’m two rows back from the attendant and too self-absorbed to make eye contact for 30 seconds.

Some might argue, “But I know this information. I hear it over and over again, like the pledge of allegiance.” Really? How many people do you honestly think would know exactly what to do in the case of, God forbid, an emergency?

But that’s beside the point. Research from all walks of life abounds on the effect the basic act of being listened to has on emotional health and well-being, self-confidence, and counter-empathy (the ability to show compassion for others in return for theirs for you).

Let’s take ourselves out of the sky now and get grounded. Back at the office, or at home, every single day we’re faced with “safety instruction moments”–like someone doing a routine job. Or perhaps it’s a loved one telling you something about his or her routine day.

We have a choice whether or not to stop, pause, and disconnect from our inner-me to engage in empathy. We choose whether or not to listen and show verbal signs of doing so, like making eye contact, nodding our heads, or smiling.

I pride myself on at least trying to show high EQ and empathy and I still screw it up sometimes. But we’re in this together, you and I. Not just in a giant aluminum tube but in the daily test tube of human interaction.

Start small. The next time you find yourself on a plane, absorbed in worrying about if you’ll catch your connecting flight, connect on the one you’re already on.

Originally published on Inc.

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