Give the Give of Kindness This Valentine’s Day

This is a note of encouragement for everyone, whether you are in a relationship or hope to be in one. Reach out. When we do, when we take initiative to start a conversation, people nearly always engage and appreciate it.

If you’ve ever ridden on a subway or commuter train, you know that it’s a pretty quiet experience. The train is filled with riders jammed together, with dozens of people in close proximity, and no one talking! Just about everyone is plugged into their music and reading on their phones, tablets, and occasionally, reading an actual newspaper.

Researchers wanted to know if people would engage in a conversation after being approached on a commuter train. Behavioral scientists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder focused on travelers on Chicago’s commuter train, called Metra. In their experiment, they instructed several hundred people to simply initiate a conversation with the random person sitting next to them. The people could initiate the conversation by saying just about anything (but nothing creepy), asking their seat-mate about a variety of common topics like sports teams (e.g., Cubs and Bears), the weather, complimenting a generic article of clothing (e.g., shoes or tie) and asking where they got it. Really simple stuff.

Here’s what they found: 100% of the people approached engaged in some form of conversation. A few were short, and some were long. Most important, no one was rebuffed.

Taking this a step further, before they began, researchers asked the people who initiated the conversations how successful they thought they would be in getting someone to respond. That is, what percentage of the people they approached would respond positively and engage in conversation. Their expectation: 50%.

What they learned was we are pretty far off in our estimate of initiating conversations with strangers. The initiators thought only 50% of people approached would respond; reality was 100%.

Now, I won’t “Pollyanna” this and suggest this study proves that 100% of conversations with strangers will be successful, but I think we can expect people to be much more engaged when we approach them than we might imagine. At times we can be shy, thinking people just want to be left alone. In reality, they are eager to engage and have a human connection.

Valentine’s Day is here. Of course, we imagine that to be a romantic holiday. Let’s expand this season of love to also connect with the people around us. Take the initiative to start a conversation with a stranger. Say “good morning” to people in the elevator. Chat with someone at work you don’t normally spend time with. Give the gift of human connection.

Take the initiative to start a conversation with others. It doesn’t need to be a love or dating interest. Meet a new acquaintance on the train, or while standing in line at the coffee shop.

Brighten someone’s day with the gift of kindness and conversation.

And if you are already in a relationship, make a special effort to gaze into their eyes and truly listen to your partner. I guarantee, it will be appreciated.

Check out my book Connect! How to Quickly Collaborate for Success in Business and Life. You’ll get lots of great ideas for connecting with those around you and making all your interactions more positive and effective.

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