The Power of Talking to Strangers
Play • 47 min

Look around a grocery store, airport lobby, or subway car, and you'll see a bunch of people who are physically together but distinctly separate, each off in their own world, often looking at their phones. In public environments like these, we rarely think to talk to others, and hope no one talks to us.

But my guest today says that initiating these kinds of interactions will not only be more edifying and enjoyable than we think, but holds a key to the sustaining of civilization. His name is Joe Keohane, and he's the author of The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World. Joe and I spend the first part of our conversation taking a high-level look at how talking with strangers makes individuals happier and society more connected, and why we so strenuously avoid these interactions, even though they almost invariably go better than we anticipate. We discuss how interacting with strangers helped expand human civilization, the codes that ancient cultures developed on how to treat strangers, and a theory as to why people are more social in places like Brazil than in Nordic countries. From there we turn to the more practical side of things and discuss how to develop or redevelop your ability to talk to strangers. Joe shares how to ask people how they’re doing in a way that will get a real response and a better question to ask people than what they do for a living. We also talk about how to change your perspective on small talk, and move it as quickly as possible into meatier territory. We end our conversation with how talking to strangers can overcome division and polarization in society, and how it's changed Joe's own life.

Check out the show notes at aom.is/strangers/

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