Small talk

Americans are famous for wanting to just “get down to business” in meetings.  Maybe a few minutes of chit-chat about the Yankees game or the weather, but otherwise, let’s get to the important stuff.

The misconception is that the meeting is just that – a meeting.  What if the person you’re meeting might be an incredible individual who maybe, just maybe, is going to become an important part of your life (starting today!).

Reflecting on yesterday’s post about generosity, we know that generous action increases when we expect to have repeated interactions.  The expectation of repeated contact makes it more likely that our kindness will be reciprocated, and makes it more likely that it will be witnessed by others, so the rational / optimal thing to do is to help others.*

So the question becomes: if the person you’re meeting just might be amazing, how do you act?  You’d want to make it more likely that you’ll see that person again in the future, of course.  And, going in, you don’t know who is and isn’t amazing, but I’d bet that there’s a lot more amazingness out there than you think.

To get us yankees to make a shift, instead of shouting (ineffectually) about how we should all “spend a little more time getting to know people,” let me instead propose that we reframe each meeting as one moment, the first moment, in a much longer-term relationship.  And that relationship is just latent potential until you activate it with real human connection at the outset.

Oh, and how IS the weather?



*(let’s park the question of the motivation behind generosity for a minute…that’s a post for another day)


One thought on “Small talk

  1. Dear Sasha,

    Hi. I’m Dave Bowen. I work as a police officer in downtown Los Angles and came across your talk on generosity during a recent sampling of TED lectures.

    As you may already know, downtown LA’s Skid Row is ‘home’ to one of the largest concentrations of homeless people in the US. I often wrestle with how NOT to say “No” after almost daily barrages of ‘brother can you spare a dime?” I too am the father of two children and quite limited in what I’m able to give to pan handlers.

    Have you had much experience/success with implementing any poverty-alleviating programs in a domestic urban environment? My inclination is to say “I cannot afford to pay you to do nothing” but I’d like to hear an outsider’s perspective on how a city, and its concerned citizens, might address this seemingly intractable problem. What’s been done to date hasn’t worked. Our sidewalks are urine-stained dumping grounds of abandoned property and people alike.

    I’d welcome fresh ideas on how we might improve the lot of the locals and bring up the neighborhood in the most enlightened and effective manner possible.


    David F. Bowen

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