Developing trust through conversation: beyond small talk

Today I came across a fantastic idea called The Feast of Strangers, an afternoon of organised conversation at Regent’s Park, London, hosted by philosopher, historian and author, Professor Theodore Zeldin.

The idea is that you turn up at the Park, get introduced to someone you don’t know, and are given a ‘Menu of Conversation’ – like a restaurant menu, only instead of dishes, you’re presented with 25 topics of conversation to choose from. But these aren’t your usual dinner party ice-breakers; they’re designed to get you to think about yourself, your life, your relationships, your hopes and aspirations and what makes you you. In other words, the kind of topics that you’d rarely discuss with friends or work colleagues, let alone complete strangers.

Examples of questions on the Menu of Conversation include:

  • What have you rebelled against in the past and what are you rebelling against now?
  • What most delights each of your five senses and which sensations do you avoid?
  • How have your opinions and behaviour changed on the way the two sexes treat each other?

The idea is that posing the questions to a stranger gives you the chance to step into their shoes and really understand what it’s like to be them. And at the same time, when you answer the questions, you get to find out a lot more about yourself and who you really are.

This is such a fantastic way of building connections between people – fun, engaging, light-hearted and profound at the same time. Since relationships are one of the three basic psychological needs (the others being control and competence – Ryan & Deci, 2000), it’s right at the heart of positive psychology. It’s been suggested that the so-called Muse Conversation approach, as well as the self-portrait approach, might help to prevent stress and depression, so not surprisingly, they’re the subject of ongoing clinical trials.

Zeldin has also run “Muse Conversation dinners” for organisations : you can find out more by emailing info[at]oxfordmuse[dot]com or calling 01865 791421.

Image courtesy of katiedee47

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