It doesn’t seem like a stretch to say that talking to strangers has become more difficult. With a million devices in hand and a million distractions to boot, the art of small talk feels increasingly lost to our digital networks.
And this is bad! According to recent studies, not only are artificial encounters like social media detrimental to our overall happiness, but they often come at the expense of activities like engaging with strangers and meeting new people in real life. And, as more studies have shown, these activities are attributed to overall higher feelings of personal satisfaction.
The case for talking to strangers
The truth is that we are social creatures, who crave connections to other people. Even fleeting ones with strangers. To prove this point, Nicholas Epley, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, and a student conducted a study where public-transit riders were asked to engage with other commuters that they didn’t know.
Some (commuters) were instructed to have a conversation with whoever sat next to them, some were told to keep to themselves and enjoy their solitude, and some were told to do whatever they normally do. Afterwards, they mailed in surveys describing their experience — both how much they enjoyed the ride and how productive they felt during it. Of the three groups, those in the conversation condition reported the most positive train ride, and those in the solitude condition reported the most negative. Among those who talked, the longer the conversation, the better the ride.
One of the more compelling findings of the study is that a majority of people anticipated that they would have a better ride if they were left (literally) to their own devices. But the actual results told a different story. Meanwhile, another finding dispensed with the idea that other people would be unwilling to talk if you approached them. As it turns out, the pleasure is usually mutual.
How to do it
Of course, meeting new people is easier said than done. Not all of us have commutes or readymade encounters where engaging with strangers is easy or available. And while the task of striking up a casual conversation with someone can be daunting, don’t be deterred.
In the video below, Kio Stark, the author of When Strangers Meet, offers some easy (and completely reasonable) techniques to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Even if you don’t make a million friends, you’ll be on your way to a more fulfilling day.
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(Top image via Flickr/TommyJohnny)