The surprising benefits of talking to strangers, BBC.co.uk, 12 June 2019, Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder
The Art Of Spontaneous Conversation
“Most people spend part of every day surrounded by strangers, whether on their daily commute, sitting in a park or cafe, or visiting the supermarket.
Yet many of us remain in self-imposed isolation, believing that reaching out to a stranger would make you both feel uncomfortable.
These beliefs may be unwarranted. In fact, our research suggests we may often underestimate the positive impact of connecting with others for both our own and others’ wellbeing.”
Through the WI lens
This piece reports on research that was prompted by a paradox: “Connecting with others increases happiness, but strangers in close proximity routinely ignore each other. Why?” What the two authors found is that people miscalculate both the receptiveness of strangers to having a conversation, and how comfortable they will feel themselves. They conducted an experiment among commuters in Chicago, in which they first asked them if holding a conversation with a stranger would improve their commute, then persuaded them to start a conversation, and asked the reaction of both parties afterwards. The experiment has been repeated among London commuters. Already some companies are exploring this territory – Virgin Trains which has designated coach C as a ‘chat coach’, and Arriva distributing “conversation starter” cards on its national bus network. Any organisation that can succeed in getting its customers – or even passersby – to talk to each other inevitably stands to benefit from a halo effect. The role of Chief Happiness Officer has hitherto been focused mainly on employees, but there’s no reason why these individuals couldn’t turn their attention to connecting customers. People left to their own devices, it’s clear, often tend to hold back. Any organisation that engages numbers of people has the opportunity to help initiate the conversation – and reap a little part of the benefit.
What this article goes on to explain is how positive thinking – described here as ‘thriving’ – can counter the effects that come from the negativity outlined above, from reduced memory to diminished performance. Based on studying people in a series of organisations in different industries, one of the authors has found that people who attain this state are more resilient, experience less burnout, and are more confident in their ability to take control of a situation
“Behind the jargon what this is really about is how we address the challenge of biodiversity under threat, move away from fossil materials like plastic and concrete, and use nature in a sustainable way, all of which could be summed up by “living in harmony with nature”.”
“In the new ‘consensual contract’ between employer and worker, what’s required is a commitment from the employer to safeguard the wellbeing of their people, and a commitment in return from employees to take personal responsibility for their performance of their job.”
“Could loneliness not only be damaging our mental and physical health but also be making the world a more aggressive, angry place? And if so, what are the implications for a cohesive society and democracy?”
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”