How I turned strangers into friends

deeper conversations hosting events (big & small) making new friends Oct 21, 2022

Hey there

 

It’s Edyth here, writer-in-residence and co-creator with Thea. 

 

I must confess, I’m afraid of being trapped at a dinner table with strangers or acquaintances who can’t or won’t go beyond small talk. I’m also impatient when it comes to the getting-to-know-you game. I want to make soulful connections fast, even with people I’ve just met. 

 

This is where I was coming from when I invited 9 people, most of whom I had never met, to a surprise dinner party for my husband’s recent milestone birthday. 

 

Amongst them were introverts and extraverts. People from different walks of life -- business, art, academia, pharmacology, urban planning, life coaching, dog therapy, teaching. As well as from different generations and with diverse politics. Yes, it was risky.

 

The first thing I did was to breathe a warm and friendly vibe into the email invitation and to seed it with specific words that sent signals. I told each invitee that they were a meaningful part of my husband’s life. That he needed nothing except their engaging company and heartfelt wishes. And that if they wished to contribute something, to bring a favourite memory or story

 

While crafting the event, I was inspired by both my own longing and Priya Parker’s exceptionally wise, sparkling, and practical book, The Art of Gathering: How we meet and why it matters. 

 

When we arrived at the restaurant, most people were already there. The atmosphere was positively electric and I noticed they were already making connections. Not only that, there was a palpable sense of belonging.

 

As soon as drinks were ordered, I introduced each person by saying how I knew them, tossing in some anecdotes and humour, making sure I offered up interesting tidbits that could become conversation starters and extenders. 

 

What struck me was the way folks locked into my eyes as I was introducing them, as if they were drinking in every word, so thirsty for acknowledgement, so grateful for being seen.

 

About a third of the way through, my sister whispered to me that it might be a good idea to move people around. So I asked her to organise that, which she did brilliantly. We moved twice.

 

When we got back to the house for dessert, people continued sharing stories about my husband, some which were incredibly moving, the kind of stuff people say at funerals. It all contributed to the intimacy, richness, and magic of the evening.

 

Well before they left, people began exchanging contact information and promising to stay in touch. As a bonus, I deepened my relationship with some of them. And I didn’t feel one bit depleted, the way I often do as a highly sensitive person who is easily overwhelmed by so many different energies at play.

 

A few days after the birthday dinner, we sent a group email telling them we were still basking in the afterglow, and expressing gratitude for making it such a memorable event. Because it was appropriate, we included photos. 

 

When I think back, the potential for soulful connection began with my intention. It found words in my invitation. It came to life during the introductions. It deepened with the stories. And it was given traction in our expression of gratitude

 

While I experienced everyday communication at its richest that evening, I am still learning. Each gathering, whether a family dinner, a time with friends, or a meeting, offers me a blank canvas where different colours and shapes can find and connect with each other in meaningful ways. So does every piece of writing. 

 

When creating the conditions for a group of strangers to become friends, here are my tips:

 

  • Intention. Set the intention for meaningful connections. Let it guide your planning, decision-making, and communication.
  • Invitations. Craft your written invitation with tender care. Seed it with words that signal the purpose and vibe you wish to enliven. 
  • Introductions. Open the gathering by describing your connection with each person. Offer tidbits that could spark connections and conversations.
  • Stories. Carve out opportunities to share theme-related stories with the whole group. Give a heads-up in the invitation.
  • Gratitude. Write a thank you note to the whole group, including an indelible memory or memorable feeling tone. Photos and contact info are optional.  

 

There’s a wealth of communication wisdom in everyday experience, especially when you know how to work with it. That’s why we created a powerful free worksheet to help you, too, lift the communication wisdom from your daily life. 

 

✏️ Download your free copy of the worksheet here. 

 

If you share your story with us, using this worksheet, you’ll receive a personalised coaching message via whatsapp with reflections, suggestions, or nudges from myself or Thea.

 

With Love and Gratitude,