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Health and Wellbeing

Try: Small talk with a stranger

By Adrian 10 Jul 2022

Time required

You can try this whenever you have a few minutes to spare and you’re in the company of people you don’t yet know. 

How to do it

In our everyday lives, we routinely spend time around people we don’t yet know. This exercise invites you to make a connection rather than remaining in solitude.

Whether in the dining hall or cafeteria, in a shop, or in line for coffee, have a conversation with a new person today. Try to make a connection. Find out something interesting about them and share something about you. The longer the conversation, the better. Your goal is to try to get to know the person.

Although people are probably more willing to talk than you expect, it’s important to be sensitive if you sense that your conversation partner doesn’t want to engage. If they do seem interested, here are some tips for a good conversation:

  • Ask questions related to your immediate context. In a shop, you might ask, “What are you going to make with that?”  In the dining hall, “How are you finidng the food here?” could be a good starter.
  • Have some go-to questions, like “What do you do for fun?” or “Where are you from?”
  • Leverage your knowledge of news or current events. You might ask, “Did you hear about the couple who won the lottery? What would you do if you won?”
  • Explore their interests, particularly if you seem to have something in common. For example, “Are you on your way to the gym? What's your favorite type of exercise?”
  • Ask follow-up questions – instead of flitting from topic to topic – to go deeper into the conversation and be better liked by your conversation partner.

Why you should try it

Moving to uni for most students means establishing new social connections. So this is a great practice to meet people, especially in your hall of residence or on campus.

You might think that making small talk with a stranger won’t be pleasant. If you do, you’re not alone – most people believe it would be difficult to start a conversation with a stranger and likely that the stranger wouldn't want to talk to them. On top of that, social norms often encourage us to stay quiet.

In reality, though, we’re wrong. Studies have shown that people are more interested in connecting – and these kinds of conversations are more pleasant – than we expect them to be. In fact, talking to a stranger can be just as enjoyable as talking with a friend (and the strangers enjoy it, too).

Even if you’re an introvert, getting a brief boost of social connection can be a positive experience – despite what your intuitions are telling you.

Adrian profile picture

Adrian is a medical doctor, the Student Health & Wellbeing Manager at the University of London and the Warden of Connaught Hall, where he has lived for almost 25 years.
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