“Hello stranger”

We don’t do it often, do we? Talking to a complete stranger. Actually it may be more fun than we might think. We all have these moments when we find ourselves perhaps in a waiting room or a bus with those unknown third parties. We quickly grab our mobile phone or a newspaper. In any case many of us look away and evade making direct contact. Why is that so?

Is it because we genuinely prefer being on our own in those moments or do we presume that the other doesn’t want contact and that we run the risc of being turned down? This topic has been researched by the University of Chicago among commuters. One group was assigned to have a ten-minute conversation with someone they didn’t know during their commute. Another group was supposed to take their regular commute and not talk during their trip. When they were asked in advance of their expectations, none of the participants thought that this ‘small talk’ experiment would generate positive emotions.

The results of this experiment proofed them wrong. Commuters in the first group experienced a far more enjoyable trip than those in the second group. More research on the effect of small talk has been done and it is pointing in the same direction: small talk makes you happier!

In the core we are all relational beings. We thrive on making contact and we feel more fortunate when we build on lasting relationships. At the end of our lives, the most valuable thing in life is not the wealth we have achieved, but the richness and the significance of the relationships we have enjoyed. So why do we hesitate so often to speak with others? Perhaps, we may be wrong in predicting our own emotions.

At the upcoming meeting of the EU network of Appreciative Inquiry practitioners in Hasselt in May, the theme is ‘Crossing Borders’. A truly present-day topic in many ways. An eye catching subject is migration. In Europe strangers are crossing borders by the thousands. Do we talk with them? Would ‘small talk’ with them improve matters? Would there not be a useful contribution that we as practitioners could make?

AI practitioners have a wide range of instruments at their disposal. They are all directed to creating generative dialogues. Could we not add ‘small talk’ to our toolkit?

It is too bold to say we can help changing our world if we all start talking to each other? What I believe is that generally people will feel happier if they talk more often to people they don’t know, especially to those who live close to them. It’s not difficult and it’s fun.

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