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Behavioural Scientists, ost people spend part of every day surrounded by strangers, many “remain in self-imposed isolation, believing that reaching out to a stranger would make you both feel uncomfortable.” Their research suggests we may often underestimate the positive impact of connecting with others for both our own and others’ wellbeing:

“Humans are among the most social species on the planet, with brains uniquely adapted for living in large groups. Feeling socially connected increases happiness and health, whereas feeling disconnected is depressing and unhealthy.”

Why would we prefer isolation to connection?

Epley and Schroeder offer two plausible answers to this apparent social paradox:

“One is that connecting with a stranger in conversation is truly less pleasant than remaining isolated for a variety of possible reasons. Preferring isolation in the company of random strangers may therefore maximize one’s well-being.

The other is that people systematically misunderstand the consequences of social connection, mistakenly thinking that isolation is more pleasant than connecting with a stranger, when the benefits of social connection actually extend to distant strangers as well.”

The Liking Gap

In “The Liking Gap“, researchers Boothby, Cooney, and Sandstrom further comment:

“Having conversations with new people is an important and rewarding part of social life. Yet conversations can also be intimidating and anxiety provoking, and this makes people wonder and worry about what their conversation partners really think of them. Are people accurate in their estimates?

We found that following interactions, people systematically underestimated how much their conversation partners liked them and enjoyed their company, an illusion we call the liking gap. We observed the liking gap as strangers got acquainted in the laboratory, as first-year college students got to know their dorm mates, and as formerly unacquainted members of the general public got to know each other during a personal development workshop. The liking gap persisted in conversations of varying lengths and even lasted for several months, as college dorm mates developed new relationships. Our studies suggest that after people have conversations, they are liked more than they know.”

Radical Listening ~ Deep Listening

It’s nothing short of amazing that a conversation can be so powerful, yet we experience this every day. Meeting face to face, or talking with people who know us, civilizes the discourse in contradiction to a social media world where anonymity emboldens destructive monologues – oneway missiles of deafness.

Everyone needs relationship; everyone wants to be heard. In “The Power of Listening” I quote David Augsburger who observed,

Being heard is so close to being loved
that for the average person,
they are almost indistinguishable.

The Radical Gospel” comes with an amazing message about God coming for us, to be with us – but the message is more personal than it is ideological, for the Gospel comes in person – in the person of Jesus. His interactions span the whole of our human experience, but one thing is profound: He listened – even as He is listening now. We are thus provoked with a mutual invitation to deep listening– the kind of listening that begins with “tell me more… I’m listening”.

Reflection Questions:

What is your experience of talking/listening to people with whom you don’t normally relate? What prejudices have been softened, changed, or eroded?

What have you learned about others and about yourself?

How has being listened to, and listening well to others influenced your spiritual journey?

For more, see articles on “Understanding” or “Deep Listening.”