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  • Emma Stenström

Train Your Xenophilia Muscle

Warm weather and vacation (and sometimes beer and wine) open us up. Perhaps you are in a new setting, where you can be just you, without expectations. It makes summer the time to practice talking to strangers.

Studies show that many overestimate how awkward it would feel, and underestimate how much it could give, to talk to a stranger. In general, we tend to think that an unknown person will not find it interesting to hear what we have to say. But that is not true. It can be enough to exchange a few words in a café to increase one's own - and the other person's - well-being.


The ability to talk to strangers also come in handy in organizations where silos have grown. Silos within organizations might reflect society at large, where the experience of social cohesion has sunk and affective polarization has increased.

Talk to strangers

So why not practice talking to strangers during the summer? With respect, of course. Friendliness to strangers requires judgment.


A first step can be to take a walk and say hello to everyone you meet. Then continue chatting with someone you recognize butdo not know – yet. The cashier, the garbage collector, the dog lady, the coffice-worker next to you. Remember that research shows that it is not only important to cultivate friendships, but also acquaintances, "weak ties".

Next step may be to choose an object and talk about it with people passing by. A beautiful flower, a sculpture, badly parked scooters, an overflowing trash can. The important thing is not the subject itself, but the conversations. You will likely learn something new. Give compliments

Another classic is to practice giving compliments. Someone is wearing nice sunglasses. Another rides, calmly and carefully, his bicycle. How does it feel to give a stranger a compliment? How is it received?

Or get lost, deliberately. Ask for the road. Stick to the conversation. Does the person have more tips to give? Maybe a favorite place? Go there and explore it. If you want to make it easy, borrow and bring a dog or baby with you. They are magnets for strangers.

Hang outside a hotel You can also approach all the tourists you see and ask if they need advice. Hang outside a hotel. Take an evening walk to the nearest campsite or guest harbor. Everyone loves talking to a ”local”, so you will end up feeling good.

Or make your own survey. Go to any restaurant and guess how many of the guests are consultants. Ask the tables all around. I know from personal experience that it starts discussions.

If no people nearby, there are digital solutions. Like the free app Dialup, where you are randomly connected. Yesterday, for example, I spoke with a poetry-loving engineer with Covid in New York.


Repair broken ties

To train the xenophilia muscle is a mindset. You can weave weak ties, strengthen fragile and repair broken ones. By doing it you feel good and you will make others happy. That’s a sweet outcome.

(Published in an earlier version in Dagens Industri)


Dig Deeper In Talking To Strangers

For exercises and research behind, have a look at Kio Stark’s book “When Strangers Meet. How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You

Dare To Talk About Abortion

Psychology professor Adam Grant on ending thinking in black-or-white around arguing about abortion.

Or Even To People Who Hate You

Actor and activist Dylan Marron talks to people who have posted negative comments about him on social media. Here is how you can bridge differences, and hate, in practice.

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