When we connect with friends, we often tell our life stories, from the trivial to the meaningful. Sharing experiences, especially secrets, fosters the development of friendships. The best ways to have conversations, make acquaintances or even strangers into new friends, and turn those friends into confidantes for the rest of your life, are now being revealed through new research, which offers some fascinating insights into how to start and maintain that process.

Be Friendly to Strangers

In 2014, psychologists conducted a now-famous research on Chicago commuters and discovered that despite our natural inclination to avoid strangers, conversing with them makes us happier. Importantly, both introverts and extraverts experienced this. The researchers also discovered that the commuters’ hesitation to chat to a stranger was due to their false assumption that strangers wouldn’t be interested in them. Very comparable findings from a study of rail commuters in the London area were published in 2021 by a team that included Nicholas Epley, one of the authors of the original paper. So, why not attempt starting a conversation the next time you’re with a stranger? It might go more smoothly than you anticipate.

Be Aware of People’s Personal Space

The Covid-19 pandemic is also having an impact. Our preferred personal space, or the distance we want to maintain between ourselves and someone we’re engaging with, varies with sex, culture, situation, and familiarity. A 2017 study of nearly 9,000 individuals from 42 different nations found significant geographic differences, particularly between “contact cultures” (South America, the Middle East, and Southern Europe), where people prefer to stand closer together, and “non-contact cultures” (Northern Europe, North America, and Asia). In order to avoid upsetting the person you’re speaking to, it is therefore important to consider their cultural background. The study also revealed that women worldwide favour more room than men do. The ideal personal distances that these individuals had indicated before the epidemic increased during it, both in reality and online, according to a short study conducted in the US in 2021. We’ve grown accustomed to allowing other individuals more room. According to this study, we still want it even while Covid-19 infections are still present.

Go Deep

We know that sharing personal experiences with others can build enduring and meaningful relationships. But when should we cut the small conversation after meeting someone? The answer is almost “immediately,” according to a 2021 study led by Michael Kardas and again featuring Epley. In this study, participants overestimated how uncomfortable a serious chat with a stranger would be and underestimated how intrigued a stranger would be by their revelations. And despite the participants’ expectations, they did not favour superficial over in-depth interaction with a stranger. They felt more connected as a result of their in-depth discussions.

Give Compliments

Do you fear that compliments like “Oh, I adore your clothing!” or even “You’ve got a terrific sense of humour!” may come across as forced or overly personal and foster awkwardness rather than a sense of camaraderie? The conclusion of yet another fresh Epley research, again published in 2021, is: “Don’t.” Previous studies have demonstrated that compliments strengthen bonds between friends and strangers. It also doesn’t cost anything in terms of money or effort. However, this research, led by Xuan Zhao, on participants in the US, consistently revealed that friendship groups underrated the benefits of compliments given to one another. They overestimated how embarrassed the recipient would feel and discounted how warm the remark would make the giver feel. The participants also reported typically giving fewer complements than they felt they should or even would like to give, suggesting that this incorrect perspective had real-world repercussions.

What if you’re not quite certain in the complement you’re offering? Because they overestimate the possibility that their insincerity will be discovered, people may be reluctant to flatter others with untrue praises, the researchers speculate. In other words, go ahead and say it because it’s likely that they’ll accept it at face value.

After a Conversation Don’t Worry

The fact that other people like us more than we realize is one of the most heartwarming, encouraging discoveries. A study that involved pairing up strangers for brief chats came to this conclusion. Following that, they rated how much they liked and felt their spouses liked them. Additionally, they frequently misjudged how well they were loved; they’d actually created a better impression than they believed. Furthermore, the “liking gap” increases with a person’s degree of shyness. Therefore, don’t let concerns about how you could have come across to a new acquaintance stop you from continuing a discussion you may have started; they may be more eager to talk again than you might think.

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