Book Review: “When Strangers Meet”
“When Strangers Meet” by Kio Stark
c.2016, TED Books
$16.99 / $22.99 Canada
You had a little talk with one of your employees last week.
Her client list has almost no action and few new prospects on it lately, and that’s no good. She blames the economy, says it’s rough out there and while you know that’s true, you suspect there’s more to the issue: she’s stagnated. With the new book “When Strangers Meet” by Kio Stark, she’ll get back her gift of gab.
Every day, probably sometimes without thinking, you speak with someone you don’t know well. It might be someone semi-familiar; a neighbor, perhaps, or maybe it was just someone to whom you wished a good morning. Those kinds of interactions, those tiny bits of humanity offered, give Kio Stark a lot of joy.
In today’s world, we often perceive strangers as suspicious; indeed, many people teach their kids accordingly. Stark says that we need to be careful, it’s true, but “stranger” may mean different things at different times. She also points out that “unpredictable and unpleasant are not by definition dangerous” and that despite our natural propensity to stereotype, “we are surrounded by individuals, not categories.”
What makes this idea even more interesting is what experiments prove: we feel better when we interact in small ways with people we don’t know. Listening to people makes them want to talk more and if they listen to your feelings, they’ll go even further. Talking to strangers often helps you gain empathy, too.
But none of this means that you should go willy-nilly into the streets and start yakking. Some cultures frown on speaking with strangers, says Stark. In some places, “civil inattention,” in which you quietly, furtively acknowledge each others’ presence, is as good as it gets. Conversely, there are many cultures that have never met a stranger.
The place to start, says Stark, is “to pick your moments.” We’re most receptive to small talk when we’re not rushed, so offer a compliment, ask for help, or ask a question of someone random. And then know how to extricate yourself because “Exits can be the most awkward…”
Cat got your tongue at work? “When Strangers Meet” can help make that cat scat.
Though this isn’t a business tome, strictly speaking, author Kio Stark’s TED Talk book could just as well be called “The Art of Small Talk,” or perhaps “How to Network.” Beginning with anecdotes that illustrate the joy in both, Stark shows readers how small connections, chosen carefully or occurring spontaneously, can foster personal growth and career enhancement. Yes, there could be some discomfort involved in what she advocates – introverted readers may particularly struggle here – but the exercises included toward the end of her book may help ease future talkers out of their comfort zones.
If you feel awkward in a strange situation, or if learning to be loquacious is one of your career goals, this book might be a good start. For practice with cocktail chat or talking up a storm, “When Strangers Meet” offers unique advice and that’s all there is to say.