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Why you should talk to more strangers

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Alisa, I have a question for you.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

OK. Yeah?

SUMMERS: How much time do you spend talking to strangers?

CHANG: Are you serious? In our job? Like, every day.

SUMMERS: I don't think it's just the job for you.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: That's true. I do go up to random people.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: I do.

SUMMERS: I feel like that's something that probably makes you happy.

CHANG: I think it honestly does. Interviewing people all day honestly makes me feel less lonely in life. I think my job makes me happier. Is that weird?

SUMMERS: I don't think that's weird. As somebody who's been doing this job less time, I think it makes me happier, too. And I got to tell you, there's a new study that's out of the Harvard Business School, and it actually found that people are happier when they have more of something that's called relational diversity in their life.

HANNE COLLINS: I will admit we made the term up as we were writing the paper.

CHANG: It's a term that works, though. That is Hanne Collins. She authored the study, and she spoke to our colleague, Weekend Edition host Ayesha Rascoe, about it.

COLLINS: Relational diversity has two elements. So one is what we call richness.

CHANG: Richness measures how many different kinds of people you interact with day to day - so, like, your romantic partner versus your parent versus your neighbor versus strangers.

SUMMERS: And the second element is evenness, or how often you talk to each of them. So say, on any given day, you mostly talk to your colleagues, and you speak once with your mom. That's not very even.

COLLINS: But if you, you know, have a few conversations with colleagues, a few with friends, a few with a romantic partner, or a couple chats with strangers, you know, that's going to be more even across these categories.

SUMMERS: And of course, we wanted to hear what everyday people thought about this. So we sent ATC producer Manuela Lopez Restrepo to Brooklyn's McCarren Park, well, to talk to some strangers.

MANUELA LOPEZ RESTREPO, BYLINE: So I just wanted to know, do you talk to strangers a lot? Do you talk to people in your community?

EUGENE GRANOVSKY: It looks like you do.

LOPEZ RESTREPO: Grocery store?

GRANOVSKY: (Laughter).

LOPEZ RESTREPO: Yeah, exactly, like I'm doing. My editor is very sadistic in that way. But do you interact with strangers in your everyday life a lot?

GRANOVSKY: Yeah.

ASHLEY BICE: One thing I love about our neighborhood - living in, is you can go to a grocery store and have a conversation with someone. I think, especially after the few years that we've all been through, it's nice just to have interaction. So I would agree.

MIKE JONES: Oh, I go to the corner store or whatever, and I talk to somebody. And we'll be talking about basketball, talking about Bud, tequila, drinks. It doesn't even matter. We just spark a conversation. And you're like, all right, yo, I'm going to holler at you. I'm out. And then, that next time I see him at the corner store, it just goes from one - point A to point B, and you just end up chilling on whatever - you know? - just vibing.

CHANG: That was Mike Jones, Ashley Bice and Eugene Granovsky. As for Hanne Collins, who conducted the research, she says it's changed how she lives her life.

COLLINS: You know, I joined, like, an adult guitar class 'cause I was like, I'll see people, and I'll chat with them.

SUMMERS: The next time you're at the grocery store and you reach for the same apples as the person next to you...

CHANG: Talk to them. I mean, I do, even if they don't want me to.

(LAUGHTER) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.