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The simplicity of a better conversation with strangers

Published on 11.11.2021 at 15:33

Our desire for strong social contact and deeper connections with our families, friends, and partners is often unfilled, leaving us disappointed, feeling that an unexplainable void remains within us after each conversation and thus shifting the blame to small talk. There is no such thing as small talk; if we want to have meaningful dialogue with a person, whether we like it or not, any conversation starts with a question-asking: from how the day is to how nice the weather is. Through "those lived experiences that shape our lives" project, we have had a series of conversations with strangers in 12 countries; question-asking made a significant outcome to their willingness to stay in, be part of the conversation. 

 

Though all questions can not be equally engaging, a follow-up seeking further information about previous points is more appealing than a shift question that changes the course of the conversation or turns off the dialogue. We do enjoy talking about ourselves, but we forget the benefits of letting the others do the same which limits our ability to connect with their story, their lived experience. We often refer to our lifestyle and fail to recognise that it is out of the other person’s reach; assuming their knowledge on various topics that are familiar to us, thus failing to explain things properly, assuming what they are thinking.

 

This gets worse when we are with an acquaintance, rather than a stranger. We often perceive our close friends, family, and partners to be similar to us, so we assume that they know what we know. Those trying to solve this problem are trapped in conscious perspective taking; imagining what our friends might be thinking and feeling, based on our existing knowledge of them. This practice decreases our ability to form deeper connections we seek. But with strangers, we are more cautious about making such assumptions, rather we are tasked to ask questions, to get the conversation going, which indeed opens a space for a stranger to tell us what they think and feel, rather than trying to assume it.

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