I involuntarily took a step back when Richard Branson turned the corner and asked the film's media rep, "Is there any way we can combine these last two interviews?"
I had been waiting in the lobby of Virgin's New York offices to talk with Richard Branson about 'Don't Look Down,' the documentary about his record-breaking trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific hot air balloon voyages. Already that morning he had appeared on "CBS This Morning," exercised with NYC school children, met with the Virgin team, and conducted a series of other interviews.
"We could," she said, "but Jeff Haden from Inc. Magazine is next..."
"Oh," he said. "I've been looking forward to speaking with Jeff. Let's not combine them after all."
Do I believe Richard actually knew who I was? Nah. (Nor do I think he remembered me more than five minutes after we spoke.)
But I do believe, out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed me standing there... and he chose courtesy over expediency.
A couple of minutes later I was ushered into the conference room. Richard stood to introduce himself and then sank heavily back into his chair. As I took my seat a staffer placed a sandwich beside him.
He shrugged and looked apologetic. "It's been a long day, and I'm famished," he said.
"Please, feel free," I said. "I completely understand. In fact, I once brought my lunch to a job interview." (I actually did.)
He smiled. "Did you get the job?" he asked.
"Oh heck no," I said, and we both laughed.
"Well, I would like to eat, but I can't unless you join me," he said, offering me half of his sandwich.
"No thanks," I said. "I'm fine. But I would love for you to go ahead, because I wanted our conversation to be casual and not feel like an interview."
He paused. "I really must insist," he said. "I won't be able to eat unless you join me."
Who says "no" twice to Sir Richard? Not me.
So I took small bites of my half while he dug in to his. (If you're wondering, it was some sort of turkey club.)
For a moment, imagine you're Richard Branson. You run dozens of different companies. (Shoot, you're creating a commercial spaceline.) You correspond with world leaders. You're a philanthropist and humanitarian and adventurer. You're near the top of every business writer's interview wish list.
Hundreds of people need, and thousands of people want, a moment of your time.
But you notice some a guy you don't know in your peripheral vision and decide, no matter how busy or tired you are, no matter how pressing other matters may be, to be gracious: Not because you have to be, not because you're expected to be, but simply because you want to be.
And then you ask that guy to share your lunch: Not because it is in any way expected, but just because it's the considerate thing to do.
The next time a person wants your help, offer to do a little more than they've ask for.
The next time you see a person who seems hesitant, unsure, or out of place, take the time to help them feel comfortable.
As Maya Angelou says, "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel."
I know I haven't.