Milwaukee Edition

Speaking with Strangers

The Simple Pleasures of Connecting

Technology tends to isolate us from others, but science points to the real value in reaching out. On average, we come into contact with more than 100 people a day, but often may not make any real connection with them.

On a typical college campus, it’s rare to see a student not plugged in while walking from class to class. Saying “Hi” to an acquaintance or complimenting someone in passing is nearly impossible. These little day-to-day interactions could provide a steady source of simple pleasures for all if we regularly made the most of such opportunities.

Part of the reason we intentionally isolate ourselves might be the false belief that we’ll be happier by doing so, according to a recent University of Chicago study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. When subway riders were asked how they thought they would feel if they spoke to a stranger, nearly all of them predicted that the ride would be “less pleasant” than if they kept to themselves. After the ride, however, the results were unanimous: Those that spoke to another person reported having a more positive experience than those that sat in silence.

Parents teach children not to talk to strangers, but as adults, we miss a lot if we don’t. Even small talk can make a big difference in the quality of our day. It’s easy to try it to see if we don’t end up with a smile on our face.

It’s ironic that young people spend hours each day on social networking sites, texting others and making plans with friends so they won’t sit alone at night, yet are getting worse at making such connections face-to-face. Even seated at the same table, conversational eye contact is becoming a lost art, another casualty of technology.

Talking with others correlates with better communication skills, too. A 20-year study from Stanford University concluded that its most successful MBA graduates were those that showed the highest interests and skills in talking with others.

So, instead of shying away from chatting with a fellow commuter or asking a cashier how her day is going, say “Hello.” It’s bound to make everyone’s day better.

Violet Decker is a freelance writer in New York City. Connect at

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