September 25, 2023

By Dr Gillian Sandstrom

To mark Loneliness Consciousness Week, Sussex Psychologist Gillian Sandstrom shares her analysis findings on the significance of connecting with strangers for our happiness and well-being.

I speak to strangers.  Even on the Tube.  I’ve had a great deal of nice chats and, after all, a couple of awkward ones.  I’ve benefitted from a few of these conversations, studying new issues and getting useful recommendation and suggestions.  Even when the conversations are simply common, they add up, and make me really feel extra belief and fewer concern in direction of others.  Analysis exhibits that speaking to strangers can improve our mood and make us feel more connected.  So why don’t we speak to one another extra typically?  Perhaps we’re not satisfied that we all know how you can do it.  The excellent news is that it’s not as onerous as you suppose, and also you’re in all probability already higher at it than you realize!

First issues first: beginning a dialog.  There are many methods to do that, and I urge you to experiment.  First, you may remark in your shared state of affairs, together with the previous classics: the climate, the site visitors.  This will appear trite, however you simply want a method to join, earlier than you may transfer on to different, extra attention-grabbing subjects.

An alternative choice is to start out with a praise.  It’s enjoyable to ship compliments, and enjoyable to obtain compliments, particularly from a stranger.  Compliments appear simpler to imagine after they come from somebody who doesn’t know you.

Use your observational expertise and faucet into your curiosity to ask questions, or ask for advice.  I’ve requested individuals why they have been sporting airplane earrings, the place they have been travelling to with their suitcase, what e book they have been studying… Typically I mix remark with humour.  I as soon as commented on a younger man’s “breakfast of champions” (a packet of biscuits), and I requested two Freemasons sporting matching striped trousers if they’d consulted one another on their wardrobe decisions that morning.

Now that the dialog is rolling, among the similar methods will enable you hold it flowing easily: touch upon issues you’ve got in widespread, and train your observational expertise and curiosity. Folks prefer it if you ask follow-up questions, as a result of it demonstrates that you’re listening deeply, reasonably than simply pondering of what to say subsequent.

You may take into account disclosing one thing about your self, which demonstrates belief and encourages reciprocation. I as soon as began a dialog with a girl on the Tube by asking her how her day had been going to this point.  She gave a non-committal response, and I assumed the dialog is perhaps over (not all conversations are profitable.)  Then she requested me the identical query, and I instructed her that I had had an journey (being interviewed on BBC Radio 4!)  In return, she confided in me that she had simply discovered she was pregnant! She felt protected telling a stranger on the Tube, who she would by no means see once more.  I felt so honoured!  Hugs have been exchanged.

Lastly, it’s necessary to be affected person.  You’ll seemingly shock individuals by speaking to them, and it could take them some time to regulate to the concept you’re simply being pleasant.  Maintain going, and more often than not you’ll handle to get right into a groove.

No dialog can final ceaselessly, so when it’s time so that you can transfer on, you’ll want to determine how you can finish the dialog. I’ve run a number of How to Talk to Strangers workshops, and though attendees simply provide you with a great deal of methods to start out conversations, they battle to provide you with methods to finish them with out mendacity (or inventing pointless journeys to the john). Perhaps that’s why individuals don’t speak to the individual subsequent to them on the airplane till quarter-hour earlier than it lands, when an ending is assured? Research confirms the problem: conversations nearly by no means finish at a time when each events need it to finish. My finest recommendation:  Maintain it easy. While you’re prepared to maneuver on, simply inform the opposite person who it’s time so that you can be in your method, and that you just’ve loved the chat (which I’m positive you’ll!)

If all this speak of beginning, sustaining, and ending conversations makes chatting sound like loads of work, don’t fear!  Like most expertise, social expertise will be discovered and developed.  I take into account my Dad a world skilled in speaking to strangers, however his secondary faculty classmates say he was fairly introverted again within the day.  I don’t take into account myself notably extraverted, and would reasonably sit on the sofa with my cats and e book as a substitute of going to a celebration.  However as soon as I began speaking to strangers, I noticed how a lot enjoyable it may very well be, and I began doing it extra typically, and getting higher at it.  In a latest analysis examine, my colleagues Erica BoothbyGus Cooney, and I requested members to speak to at the least one new individual every single day for per week.  On the finish of the week, a lot of our members admitted that speaking to strangers was simpler than they thought: “I can truthfully say that I’m not almost as shy as I assumed! This experiment allowed me to essentially push out of my consolation zone and take the initiative when speaking to individuals.”

Not solely will you begin to really feel extra snug with apply, however you’re in all probability already higher at it than you suppose you might be.  If you happen to’re like most individuals, after chatting to a stranger you may’t assist however marvel what they considered you, and your dialog.  It seems that individuals usually underestimate how much others like them.  Analysis finds proof for this “liking gap” earlier than an upcoming chat to a stranger, after a chat to a stranger (whether or not or not it’s brief or lengthy), and even after dwelling with a flatmate for a number of months.

Sadly, “stranger hazard” norms are prevalent, so generally individuals received’t need to speak to you.  This occurs a LOT much less typically than you’ll suppose. In our week-long examine, members mentioned: “I used to be fearful individuals would favor to be left alone, however that was by no means the case”, and “I used to be by no means turned down by anybody.” If somebody doesn’t need to speak, keep in mind that they might be nervous too, or studying a extremely good e book, or caught up in their very own private drama… Their response isn’t essentially a judgment of you and your overture.  Respect their determination, and if you attempt once more, you’ll discover loads of people who find themselves extra receptive and appreciative.

Why not be courageous, and begin a dialog with somebody? You’re extra succesful than you suppose, and each of you might be prone to take pleasure in it greater than you count on.

Gillian Sandstrom is a Senior Lecturer within the Psychology of Kindness on the College of Sussex. Gillian’s analysis examines the limitations that forestall individuals from connecting. Her analysis has centered particularly on the fears that make individuals fear about speaking to strangers, which she views as an act of kindness. See Gillian’s Sussex profile to search out out extra about her analysis at Sussex.