Why is it Important to Talk to Strangers?

A Curiosity and Exploration into Talking to Strangers

One of the ways I spend my time is as a Design Thinking Facilitator at the Academy of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. Last week I was prepping for a workshop I facilitated this week about How to Talk to Strangers. The class I’m prepping for is longer than normal so I was able to play within that spaciousness and work to design a learning experience that goes deeper into the material and explore it to satisfy a bit of curiosity.

The What: Talk to Strangers

The skill we are building is talking to strangers to support empathy and interviewing work within the design thinking process. We are acknowledging the need to lean into the uncomfortableness of talking to strangers while also providing a structure and reason to do so. This provides a solid way to learn by doing and build confidence in the ability to do hard things.

The How: Expeditions on Campus

A series of audio guided expeditions that moves the students through increasingly more challenging ways to talk to strangers based on the work and Ted Talk of Kio Stark.

The expeditions:

  1. Say Hello to everyone you walk by for about 5 minutes.
  2. Use Triangulation as a conversation opener with a stranger.
  3. Ask a stranger for directions, then a hand drawn map, then their phone number to call if you get lost, then actually call them and thank them.

A solid start. And the how is important. It is helpful to have specific tactics and practices to guide our exploration of new things. The world is full of helpful how-to’s to support any skill. But the how is not enough. Knowing how does not mean that you will. I would argue that the why may be even more important than the how. And I am curious about the why.

The Why: Setting the Stage and Posing the Question

So, why is it important to talk to strangers? When venturing into new territory I believe it is best to start where we are and then go through the journey to the new and unfamiliar place.

The activity:

  1. Map Current Network — Who do you know now?
  2. What are the advantages to these connections?
  3. What are the disadvantages? How is it constraining?

And now the leap into the why..

  1. Why is it important to talk to strangers?

An entirely unproven and incomplete answer I’ve come up with so far:

  1. The power of weak ties. The people that know the people we know are where we find relationships, new jobs, interesting opportunities, and new adventures.
  2. The idea of collision density. When you put a collection of diverse and different people in a dense space, those people must collide and interact and create and react. The collision is generative and innovative.
  3. The constraints of the filter bubble. The algorithm’s of the online world show us what we already see and slowly constrict and shrink the information we receive and ideas we are exposed to in life. But we can work to flex and pop the filter bubble before it shrink wraps us.

So, why do you think it is important to talk to strangers?

Rachel is a writer, podcaster, and self-employed designer and visual facilitator. She lives in NC with her dog, Devin. Learn more at daringstudios.com

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