Between working from home, having goods and groceries delivered, and exclusively banking online, it’s increasingly possible to conduct life without ever engaging face-to-face with another human being. The average person can now avoid casual conversations with strangers more often than not. But is that a good thing?
It turns out that NOT talking to strangers could be keeping us from living a more informed life. When we don’t talk to strangers, we’re missing out on a variety of education we couldn’t anticipate, leading to poorer decision-making, less creativity, and overall diminished well-being. What you don’t know will hurt you after all.
A new study from two leading business schools suggests that we underestimate the potential for learning from strangers, colleagues, and others with whom we micro-interact daily. The study by Stav Atir, assistant professor of management at the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Kristina Wald and Nicholas Epley of the Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, found that systematically underestimating the informational benefit of conversation creates a barrier to talking with and hence learning from others more often in daily life.
Conversations can improve not only knowledge transfer but also knowledge creation. Through spontaneous conversations, people working in the same organization can share useful information—norms in the organization, information about tasks, and ideas.
Much institutional knowledge isn’t learned or taught in a formal, structured way. And past work shows that a greater transfer of knowledge between organizational units is associated with better performance.