5 Steps For Deeper Connections With Strangers

The team at WOMN frequently attends events where small talk is prevalent. People might chat about shoes, or the girl in the room who resembles a supermodel. But are we really only connecting with each other over surface opinions? We believe shared and different interests can be a tool to dive deeper and forge authentic bonds.

With the recent debates and election, we realized the political mode of asking questions to size up and one-up. When meeting someone, why can’t we lead with authenticity? What is the best way to do this without interviewing, interrogating, or overstepping?

WOMN is not a political platform, but we firmly believe in community and accomplishing more together. Whether you are a new mom thankful to the person who held the door for your mammoth stroller, or the loner on a park bench who encounters a genuine smile, sometimes the most impactful moments start with a stranger.

As holiday events and gatherings quickly approach, we’ve sought out tools to foster community beyond the surface. We consulted relationship expert and therapist, Ana Santaolalla, for attainable, simple steps toward meaningful conversations this season. Her ”east meets west approach to healing the modern mind” is a realistic, refreshing perspective on the human need to bond, and ultimately reach our highest potential. Ana recommends keeping these five steps in mind:

Intentional Connection. Be purposeful about your goal to connect. Go into a gathering with the mindset that you want to bond with others in a worthwhile way. Mingling with everyone will likely result in little more than small talk and exhaustion. Focusing on getting to know one or two new people is much more likely to forge new bonds.

Authenticity. Be real, be genuine, be yourself- that is, your true self. Many of us have been socialized to care immensely about how others perceive us. The desire to be liked is natural, but it often leads us to act in ways that are incongruent with who we truly are. When we are congruent, what we feel and what we say match. This authenticity brings with it a sense of calm and ease. Meaningful connections are rooted in honesty and openness. Share something amazing- even awkward or frustrating- that happened to you that day. Transparency in such areas is relatable, as well as liberating.

Be present. Be in the moment, aware of the sensations you are experiencing. If you are having a conversation, focus on that, not what is happening across the room. Are you feeling nervous, bored, excited? Being present allows you to pick up on other people’s cues more effectively, and to fully experience your own feelings. This awareness can remain internal, or something you share with a new friend. Sharing what you are feeling is a vulnerable act, and vulnerability is a pillar of connection.

Curiosity. A genuine interest in bonding with someone sparks the desire to ask questions, to learn more. Typical conversation starters can be invasive or competitive. Instead of asking someone what they do for work, how about first asking how their day is going or what they did that day? Extroverts generally enjoy talking about themselves and their experiences. Those who are introverted may not share as much, but your gentle curiosity will encourage openness, and a deeper interaction.

Listen. Although it sounds obvious, listening is probably the single most powerful tool in helping us bond with another person. Truly hearing someone means taking in their words without using that time to think of what you’d like to say next. It’s also important to listen without judgment, or comparing your own experiences. Take in what is being said, and be attentive to nonverbal cues such as eye contact or facial expression. When we really listen with intent, we enter someone’s world. We begin to have empathy for them, which in turn enriches our own lives.

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