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Do Talk to Strangers

by Beth on November 15th, 2018

Researchers Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder conducted a study where they asked some of the participants to engage in conversation with a stranger on their commute. Those participants reported having a more positive experience than the ones who were asked not to interact with anyone. In her book Love 2.0, Barbara Fredrickson explains how micro-moments of connection boost our well-being.

Yet most of us are reluctant to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Two common reasons for this are that we either don’t think the other person wants to talk or we feel awkward because we don’t know what to say.

Epley and Schroeder found in a related study that people tend to underestimate a stranger’s interest in talking. We all have a basic need to belong, to feel connected to others, so don’t assume people don’t want to talk.

Now what about your fear of experiencing awkwardness? In her book Cringeworthy, Melissa Dahl defines awkwardness as “self-consciousness with this undercurrent of uncertainty”. She believes there is value in experiencing awkward moments. They help you to grow by realizing they aren’t as terrible as you may think.

If you do experience a cringeworthy moment, recognize that awkwardness is something everyone has experienced. Who hasn’t tripped in public, had a conversation with food in their teeth, or walked around with toilet paper on their shoe?

Dahl suggests using humor to deal with awkwardness. Turn your experience into a funny story that you can use to connect with others by bonding over our mutual human absurdity. It may also help to realize that not as many people as you think notice the embarrassing things you do. Studies of the “spotlight effect” show that people don’t pay nearly as much attention to us as we think they do.

Try to be more attuned to moments where you can connect with others. Dare to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the subway, or in an elevator, or standing in line behind you. You will likely both be happier as a result!

  1. Judith Clark permalink

    Amazing and informative. I would love to see a forum where individuals can meet to discuss the excellent points you highlighted.

    My two daughters and son in law are employed in administrative positions at GaTech. Needless to say, we love Tech.

    I am a retired Department Chair in the Special Education Department, with an honor of being selected Teacher of The Year at a local high School, I carried the Olympic Torch in 2004, and happily watch 6 young grandchildren 3 days a week.

    It would be amazing to have you facilitate meetings where we could work together to address current issues and common needs.

    Judith Clark

  2. Beth permalink

    Great to hear about all of your Tech connections! And thank you for your service as a teacher! Always happy to discuss issues of well-being! ~ Beth

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