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More On Talking To Strangers

In my last post on connection I encouraged you to talk to strangers. If meeting new people isn’t enough to entice you, maybe this will: making connections is good for you, and for the people you are connecting with too. This article presents interesting research in behavioral science about connection.

Bottom line: social interactions increase happiness. (Thanks to the reader who alerted me to this research!)

The article also talks about the opposite of connection, called “wie Luft behandeln” in German (meaning: to be looked at as though air). I know it as a sense of being invisible and I felt it during my gig as a volunteer at South by Southwest.

To some people who were waiting to enter a session, I was an obstacle. Not a huge obstacle – all that was required was showing their conference badge – but an obstacle nonetheless that needed to be passed. Many people walked by me without seeing me. Since I was enjoying connecting with people, I played with becoming visible – I spoke to each person who presented their badge. Lines moved quickly so I offered a simple nicety like “Enjoy the session”. Those few words broke the invisibility barrier as they noticed a real human being in front of them.

Little interactions matter: while avoiding contact with others is often the social norm, research shows that small gestures like a nod or a smile help people feel more connected.

More interactions = more connections = more happiness.

Over the course of the conference most of the people I met were affable, but there were times when I dealt with angry people. These were people who had a tantrum when they didn’t get what they wanted (entry into a session) when they wanted it (now). But a full room is a full room so the answer was no. Actually, the answer was “not now, but as soon as someone leaves you can enter” which still wasn’t enough for the angry people.

Being on the receiving end of a torrent of negativity is not pleasant. It would have been easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and respond with a snarky comment, but that would have made a difficult situation worse. That’s not what I wanted. Instead, this is what I remembered:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. – Ian MacLaren

This is not condoning their behavior. It is choosing to remember that we all have hard days, that sometimes it feels like everything is going wrong, and maybe this was one of a string of things gone wrong that day for that person. I have no idea what their battle was, but the struggle was on.

I calmly repeated the room policy. Then, when someone left the room and the angry person entered, I meant it when I said “Enjoy the session”.

Go forth and connect!

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