MAUGHAN: I’m so nervous right now.
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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.
DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: How do you connect with someone new?
DUCKWORTH: How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
MAUGHAN: Oh, wow.
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DUCKWORTH: Mike, my question for you is: how do you, Mike Maughan, connect with somebody you just met? Because you are really good at meeting new people. I’ve seen you do it in the context of these Utah Jazz games, but I’ve also seen you do it in the context of these big annual conferences that you have helped to coordinate for Qualtrics for years. So, I get to watch you backstage and in the, you know, “mosh pit” of the audience itself. And you’re just, like, meeting people left and right for the first time. And I’ve always been struck by how easily you do make those connections.
MAUGHAN: This is an interesting question. So, if you know who someone is or know who you’re meeting with, I think it’s different than when you just meet someone for the first time, randomly. I will admit that I follow the example of a friend of ours who taught me the power of preparation.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, wait, who’s the friend?
MAUGHAN: Our friend, Arianna Huffington, I think has been such an amazing example. Because the first time I ever met with her — we were meeting formally for a scheduled meeting — I walked in and Arianna had every recent tweet that I had done, every recent article that I had written in some newspaper. She had all this information. And she comes to the conversation very knowledgeable about all of your recent activities, but then she can comment on all the things that you’ve recently been doing or saying, or that are out there in any sort of public way. And you feel seen, and noticed, and recognized. And I admit that I felt this much deeper connection. So, the next time I’m meeting with Arianna, it’s via Zoom — I should have taken the lesson, because I just show up to the meeting, and I’m prepared for the meeting, but I haven’t done this, and she does the same thing. I’m really impressed, and I feel, again, recognized, seen, valued, because she comes to every meeting knowing something about the person and knowing about what’s interesting to them. And I think one of the keys I have found in connecting with other people is: as quickly as you’re able — whether it’s a scheduled meeting like this or a random meeting — as quickly as you’re able, identifying something that’s of interest to the other person, and then it allows you to connect on a really human level.
DUCKWORTH: So, this second encounter with Arianna Huffington, where you’re, I guess, not total strangers, but you’re not B.F.F.s either yet, right? Like, she already knew the things that she knew the first time she met you, but she did — what? Prep on what you had been saying on social media that week?
MAUGHAN: Yes, exactly that. So, it’s that she would know, since we last met, what articles have you published? What tweets have you sent? What have you been talking about online? What things have you been at? So, instead of just knowing my biography, she said, “Oh, I, I saw that you recently went to this event, how was that?” Or, “What did you learn from this?” And it’s an example — because obviously you don’t always know who you’re meeting with, but an example of how to be interested in other people. And there’s nothing that most people like more than hearing their own name and talking about themselves. And so, when someone shows up and shows interest, it’s such an easy and powerful way to connect.
DUCKWORTH: I mean, probably the most famous research paper on how to get close to another person in a kind of, like, emotional way as fast as possible is — people call it, like, in my field “the Aron and Aron procedure,” because the two lead researchers —.
MAUGHAN: Like, Aaron the name?
DUCKWORTH: Well, there’s a husband and wife couple, Elaine and Arthur Aron. They’re both psychologists who have been studying interpersonal closeness for decades and decades. And their procedure for getting intimate with another person that you don’t yet know is a sequence of questions. It’s actually something that you may have heard of because The New York Times published them, like, I don’t know, in 2015 or something.
MAUGHAN: Oh, it this “The 36 questions That Lead to Love”?
DUCKWORTH: Yes, the kind of viral, like, Modern Love piece.
MAUGHAN: Yes, I love these.
DUCKWORTH: Have you done them, like, as icebreakers? Because sometimes they’re used in business.
MAUGHAN: Yeah, well that’s what I was going to say. I think it’s three sections —.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, there’s three sets, 12 each.
MAUGHAN: And I think they get increasingly intimate. And I usually don’t do those, but I’ve absolutely used a bunch of these. And it’s kind of a forced “get to know you,” but they give interesting questions and interesting framing where people, I think, feel free to talk about things that you might not necessarily bring up, but they lead to some level of personal intimacy where you get to know people pretty quickly on a pretty deep level. I’ll admit, I had no idea it was an academic study.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, you just knew the Modern Love piece, maybe, but the original study was actually a random assignment study, and there’s another set of questions that was in the placebo group — in the, you know, non-treatment group. And they’re small-talk questions.
MAUGHAN: Wait. So there’s two groups of people. One group gets the “36 questions that lead to love,” and the other gets just small talk questions. And they measure what? Before and after how connected we feel with each other?
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, that’s exactly the research design. By the way, in the original study, the Arons, the lead psychologists on this work, did not actually intend these questions to lead to love. It was published in The New York Times in the Modern Love section, but they were just trying to get people to be close to each other platonically.
MAUGHAN: Honestly, that’s how I’ve — I call them “36 questions that lead to understanding.” Because I feel like if you say, “that lead to love,” with coworkers, you’re like, that’s obviously super weird.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, that’s not where we’re going. We weren’t going there. Um, Okay. So, I think we should go through. And, Mike, even though you don’t like using the third set, which is, like, the most vulnerable kind of question-answering-and-asking set of the three, I think we should go through one question in set one, one question in set two, and yes, I think we should go to set three.
MAUGHAN: Hm. Okay. Okay. Deal.
DUCKWORTH: Are you ready?
MAUGHAN: I’m so nervous right now.
DUCKWORTH: First, let’s do a question from set one. I’m going to pick what I think is a pretty innocuous one, okay? Mike, what would constitute a perfect day for you? And by the way, in this procedure, you answer it, but also, I answer it. But you answer first.
MAUGHAN: The perfect day for me. It’s definitely outdoors. It’s going to involve people that I love.
DUCKWORTH: Okay. So, like, who?
MAUGHAN: So, I have a, a group of friends. It’s basically the group I recently went on vacation with to Hawaii — so, the Kimballs, the Bednars, the Bennetts. They’re some of the people I love most in the world. We were in Hawaii, which is a place that my grandmother grew up, born and raised — a place that’s very deeply important to me in connection to my relatives and heritage. And I think the beauty of sharing a place and sharing something that you love so much with people that you care so deeply about is probably the perfect day for me. So, very active. It would be: let’s accomplish something, A.K.A. go on a hike or do something challenging and hard. But also then do something enjoyable that is this yin and yang of adventure versus some level of peace, A.K.A. reading a book by the beach or something like that. So, a combination of place, being outside, some level of adventure, some level of comfort.
DUCKWORTH: Reading the book happens after you get back from the really hard hike?
MAUGHAN: Yeah. That’s probably sitting on the back deck overlooking the beach or sitting on the beach itself.
DUCKWORTH: Everyone’s taken their shower. You’re waiting for dinner.
MAUGHAN: I’m not like a foodie foodie, but it wouldn’t hurt to have great food in there as well.
DUCKWORTH: It’s a perfect day. I think you get to pick that there’s perfect food.
MAUGHAN: So, you’re answering the same question, “What’s your perfect day?” Or do I get to pick a random one?
DUCKWORTH: I think I should answer the same one. And then, if we were doing it for realsies, then we would actually go through the first set —.
MAUGHAN: Oh, because you go back and forth. Both of us answer each question.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. So you both answer. I think it’s very important that you both answer the same question. And you’re working your way — it’s kind of like a board game. You’re, like, working your way through the cards. And then, when the timer goes off, you have to move to the next set, because it’s like you have to move to the next level of intimacy.
MAUGHAN: So, let me ask you, Angela Duckworth. What constitutes the perfect day?
DUCKWORTH: I wake up. And I’ve slept amazingly. I think I have an iced coffee from the local coffee shop, which is called Alchemy, and they have that, like, little sugar syrup that you can pour in.
MAUGHAN: Wow, this is an immense level of detail. I love it.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, yeah. I’m going for it!
MAUGHAN: Mine’s, like, so general.
DUCKWORTH: By the way, this is all possible. I haven’t really fantasized that much — aside from the perfect sleep, which doesn’t usually happen. But here’s the thing. I’m with Jason, and we are going to go to New York that day. And we get on the train. And the train comes on time. And on my perfect day, we walk around Manhattan, and we go to Central Park, and it’s 72 degrees and low humidity. And the light is coming through the leaves in the trees of Central Park. And we find somewhere to eat that we hadn’t planned in advance. There’s no reservations, but it’s amazing.
MAUGHAN: So, some level of surprise and delight.
DUCKWORTH: And then, we go to a museum. We go to the MoMA or an art gallery, maybe. And we get hungry, and we have dinner. Again, somewhere maybe unplanned. And then, we catch the train back. And we’re on time for the train. The train is on time for us. And we walk back to our own home. And we get into bed, and we read. And that’s it.
MAUGHAN: And are you reading scientific literature? What are you reading?
DUCKWORTH: I never read scientific literature. I find that very, like, then I’m just thinking. I like to read nonfiction more than fiction. I could read, like, The New Yorker or, like, a memoir. I love me a good memoir. I’m reading a memoir right now — Dana Gioia. He was on a plane next to me, and he introduced himself as a “famous poet.”
MAUGHAN: Wait. Did he say, “I’m a famous poet”?
DUCKWORTH: Well, I said, “Oh, what do you do?” And he was like, “I’m a famous poet” — but semicolon, because it was, like, a joke — he was like, “Only to other poets.” And I was like, “Oh, well, I’m not a poet.” And he was like, “Right.” So, I said, like, “What are you famous for?” He was like, “Oh, for bringing verse, like rhyming, back into poetry.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s a big deal. I guess you are famous.” And he was also the head of the National Endowment of the Arts for a while. And I think he was, like, poet laureate for the state of California — I mean, he actually is, legit, a famous poet. I went on to the Poetry Foundation website when I got home.
MAUGHAN: You love that website, right? I feel like that’s a website you’re on all the time.
DUCKWORTH: I love that website! Anyway, I guess if I wanted to shoehorn a chance encounter with a poet into my perfect day, I could. But I think we’ve accomplished answering that question. If we had more time, we would answer more questions in set one, but I’m moving you along to level-two intimacy. And I’m going to make you answer the last question in the second set. So, here it is. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother? Yeah, I’m going for it. I’m asking the mother question.
MAUGHAN: Thankfully, I love my mother, but can you imagine if I didn’t have a great relationship and it’s just like, “Hey, let’s dive in there.”
DUCKWORTH: Oh, well then we would get real. That’s what would happen.
MAUGHAN: We would get real. I love my mother. And I have a great relationship with her. My mother is a very strong person. She’s a petite woman, but she is fierce, and she is mighty. And she pushed us in all of these good ways. For example, my siblings and I — in our bathrooms, there was always some new quote taped to the mirror.
DUCKWORTH: She would write down inspiring quotes and, like, literally tape them to the bathroom mirror?
MAUGHAN: And we all had to memorize when we were little, “Integrity is the moral courage to make my actions consistent with my knowledge of right and wrong.” I mean, she was ingraining character into us the whole time, which you, of all people, would love. Our chores all growing up — you had an indoor chore and an outdoor chore, and read for an hour. Every one of my siblings, we just got deep into reading. And we owe her so much for that. So, she pushed us to become good people, very well-read people. You know, who we were and what we did mattered. And I will say the thing that has impressed me most about my mother, as the years have gone on, my siblings and I have all grown up, she has become very adaptable, even when not everything works out exactly as — who has ever had everything work out exactly as they hoped, right? But she has proven to be surprisingly adaptable to every situation, and I don’t know that I would have predicted that, because there was some level of rigidity to growing up. And she is remarkably — just leads with love and saying, “this is my family.” I think she’s proven to be an incredible grandmother, and still has that very maternal leadership of the family. So, I feel very, very blessed that way. And now you, Mrs. Angela Duckworth. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh. I would say that it has gotten deeper recently, but I so love my mom. And she is somebody who I think only in the last couple of years I’ve gotten to know as a real person. For a lot of my life, I thought of my mom as the this, like, long-suffering saint, because my dad was so overbearing. I mean, I loved him, but oh my gosh, he was so self-absorbed.
MAUGHAN: But that’s the complicated relationship.
DUCKWORTH: I have a complicated relationship with my now-deceased father. I think my relationship with my mother was simpler, and actually has gotten more complex in a good way. So, much of my life, I thought about my dad more than my mom. I was, like, obsessed with my dad and his affection for me and what he thought about me. And I talked more to him. And I think I took him more seriously as, I don’t know, like, an intellectual partner and as a mentor. You know, when it would come to big decisions, I would go to my dad and not my mom. I didn’t think about my mom other than like, “Oh, my mom is beautiful. She’s benevolent. She’s selfless. She’s loving.” But when I had a problem, I would go and talk to my dad.
MAUGHAN: So, as complicated as it was with your dad, you still turned to him more as a child.
DUCKWORTH: You know, I felt closer to my dad for my entire life — I mean, until he died, really. And then, when he passed away, now a few years ago, I think it was only then that I actually started to talk to my mom, like, as a person and not just as a two-dimensional cut-out of a saint. I was like, “Oh, you know, what is my mom thinking? What is my mom feeling?” And also, “What did my mom do today when she woke up?” I want to say, even in this last year in particular, I’ve just gotten a lot closer to her. You know, I finally said to her something that I hadn’t said, but I had thought it. I said to my mom, “You never call me. We don’t really, like, actually talk. Like, we talk, but we don’t really have intimate conversations. And I want to spend more time with you. And it’s not just because you’re getting on in years and so am I, but it’s just because, like, I kind of want to know you more.” And it was a weird thing to say to your mom. And then she said, in that conversation, like, “Oh, I love talking to you!” And I said, “Well, why don’t you ever call me?” And she said, “Well, you just seem so busy.” Okay. Fair point.
MAUGHAN: Yeah, but also sad, because it’s your mom.
DUCKWORTH: I know! I was like, “Well, I would like it if you called me. I would like to actually spend time talking to you. I’m not that busy.” So, in the last year, we’ve gotten a lot closer. So, I’ve always loved my mom. She really is all those things I said. As self-absorbed as my father was is as selfless as my mother is. And also, she’s a whole human being with, like, her own conflicts, and stories, and regrets, and dreams, and friendships, and daily hassles. So, I have an increasingly complex and wonderful relationship with my mother.
Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Angela uncovers some unexpected information about Mike’s past.
MAUGHAN: This is not hypothetical for me.
DUCKWORTH: This is not a hypothetical question! Oh, I didn’t mean it to be so traumatizing.
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Now, back to Angela and Mike’s conversation about Aron and Aron’s 36 questions that foster closeness.
DUCKWORTH: Okay. So, we’re going to move on to set three. Are you ready? This is the final set, Mike. This is like the vulnerability set that has, actually, mostly questions about embarrassment, and about shame, and crying, but I decided to be kind to you. I think I chose the most, you know, benign question in set three. Okay, so here we go. Mike, your house — this is hypothetical. Oh gosh, I hope this isn’t traumatizing. “Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item.” Mike, what would it be and why?
MAUGHAN: Angela Duckworth, do you know why this is the most interesting question you could have asked me?
DUCKWORTH: Why is it the most interesting question, Mike? I don’t know.
MAUGHAN: Because when I was two years old, my house burned down. And when I was 16 years old, it burned down again.
DUCKWORTH: No! What?
MAUGHAN: I am not joking.
MAUGHAN: By the way, there’s the old adage, “three strikes and you’re out.” The same house burned twice. And so, honestly, my parents moved after that.
DUCKWORTH: It was the same house? Oh God.
MAUGHAN: Same house twice.
DUCKWORTH: And they were like, “Let’s just leave this house.” I think that’s a good life choice. 00:35:13] Wait, were you guys doing, like, dumb things like leaving the pilot light on next to a Kleenex or something?
MAUGHAN: The first time, when I’m two years old, a massive snowstorm in Utah. The power had gone out for, like, two weeks. So, everyone was living in a hotel, or with family, or friends, or something else. And apparently, when my family had come home, they’d put the groceries on the stove. And it was one of the old stoves back when. And so, someone had bumped the burner with their hip or something like that. And so, when the power came back on, the stove turned on, and then lit the groceries that were sitting on top of the stove on fire, and then, that spread through the kitchen and the rest of the house. But we had to move out for months, and then, when I’m 16 years old, we’ve all just finished Sunday dinner with my grandparents. My siblings are all in town from college. And, I’m the fifth of six kids, so most of them are older, but everybody’s there. We’re sitting in the front room having this wonderful conversation. And we smell smoke. And uh, my brother Dave runs outside, and there’s black smoke billowing out of both sides of the house. And he hops on the phone and calls 911. And, you know, the whole street is full of fire trucks. And so that one, again, we were out of the house for months, and months, and months, but we didn’t lose the whole house.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, what was the cause of this?
MAUGHAN: That was — wiring in the wall had frayed, they thought, after the first fire or whatever. And thankfully, it went up the wall instead of out into the home. Otherwise, we would have lost way more. But I remember sitting there as a 16-year-old. You know, when they’re spraying all the water, obviously they’re afraid the roof will collapse, because there’s so much water damage to just put out the fire. And they have to cut out big sections of the house to let the oxygen come in, I guess, and then the flames just start shooting up wildly. And so I — this is not hypothetical for me.
DUCKWORTH: This is not a hypothetical question. Oh, I didn’t mean it to be so traumatizing.
MAUGHAN: No, it’s not traumatizing. But I also feel like it’s weirdly not that intimate.
DUCKWORTH: Okay. Well, I guess you can consider it a softball. What would you take out of your current home as the one object that you would want to save?
MAUGHAN: Honestly, I have so many amazing, cool things from over the years that I’ve collected, but the only thing I would care about most, I guess, is just getting — and most of this is on the Cloud now, but it was just getting pictures and memories. So, I would guess that what’s not on the Cloud outside of pictures are probably journals. I’m not a great journaler, but I have a bunch of journals from my childhood, and from college, and stuff like that. So, I’d probably go grab those. I went on some amazing adventures during college, and afterwards, and traveled all over the world. And I journaled decently well then. That’s what’s irreplaceable. It’s more the memories, and what’s personal.
DUCKWORTH: I agree, by the way. This isn’t, like, super vulnerable, but it is in set three.
MAUGHAN: Well, hopefully you don’t — you don’t have the same experience that I have.
DUCKWORTH: No, my house did not catch on fire twice. I did not have any house fires in my life story. But if I had to dash to safety and choose one object, I would choose actually — my mom did a painting. There’s two paintings — oh my gosh. I’m going to cheat. So, they’re both by my mom. But the painting she did when she was 24, it’s a watercolor. I’ve shown you it before. She grew up, actually, in China. It’s an ocean with a mountain coming out of it. And it was very symbolic to her as her childhood home when she came to the United States. It was sort of a representation of, like, all she had left behind and feeling like, you know, you’re in the middle of the ocean, you’re like, on this scary adventure where you don’t know anybody, and you feel lonely. I mean, basically, it’s a painting about loneliness and home. And the other painting — so sorry if I’m cheating here, but if I’ve got two hands, I can carry two paintings. When my dad died, my mom, around that time, had found this canvas — somehow, like, discarded maybe? But it was, like, a canvas that already had, like, a photo image of a peacock feather. And she grabbed it out of a dumpster. I don’t know exactly how this all transpired. But then she painted it all these, like, very rich jewel-color blues and greens. And she basically made it the colors of the peacock feather, but that you could still see the peacock feather that was embossed into the original discarded canvas. And she calls it a portrait of my father who was — well, he was a little bit like a peacock, strutting around and getting everyone to look at him. So, I would try to save both of those. Okay, so Mike, we have answered a sample of questions from this famous Aron and Aron procedure. And I want to say that when they ran the original study, there were these strangers, right, who would be paired up with each other, and they would go through as many questions as they could get through, but you would force these pairs to move on from the first set, to the second set, to the third and most vulnerable set. And the researchers asked these people how they felt. You know, “How close do you feel to this other person?” And what’s striking is that there was such a movement from, like, “Oh, not at all, because I’ve never talked to them,” to like, “Wow, I feel pretty intimately connected to this other person.” Um, let me read you from this paper, Mike, about the conclusion of what they found in this experiment. “Immediately after about 45 minutes of interaction, this relationship was rated as closer than the closest relationship in the lives of 30 percent of similar students.” That’s from another sample.
MAUGHAN: Okay. That is fascinating though.
DUCKWORTH: In other words, after 45 minutes of structured conversation going through these three sets of questions with a total stranger, you’re like, “Yeah, I feel about as close to this person as, like, a third of people would feel to, like, their closest other.”
MAUGHAN: I totally get why you could get deeper intimacy in 45 minutes. Because you actually know people’s story.
DUCKWORTH: You know, I think this idea of, like, “Well, how would you get close to somebody you don’t yet know?” You know, opens up, like, so many basic insights about what it is to have a relationship. You know, you talked about Arianna Huffington. She’s a professional, right? So she’s like, “Oh, I’m going to do all this prep.” But, really, what that reveals to me is genuine respect and interest in another person. It’s part of relationship-building to know something about what you care about so I can connect — kind of like on-ramping onto your interest highway. And then this Aron and Aron procedure — I want to say something that’s not as obvious from just reading these questions as it would be if you read the original study. So again, I’m going to quote from what they wrote. “The procedure itself, in addition to putting pairs together to interact for 45 minutes, was initially developed to include four key elements. A) Gradually escalating reciprocal self-disclosure and intimacy related behaviors.” Okay. That’s the obvious thing that we’ve just been experiencing. But here’s three other elements: “B) Matching by non-disagreement on important attitude issues.” You talk about loving your mom and how wonderful she is. I talk about loving my mom and she’s so wonderful. We are non-disagreeing, right? We are matching. We’re like, “Oh my gosh, I feel that too.” These questions I think are designed to reveal some mutual experiences or worldviews. And so that’s a second element. “C) Expectations of mutual liking.” It’s important to have the expectation that you’re going to like them. And here’s the final element, “D) Making closeness an explicit task.” When they sat these strangers down to talk to each other, it was explicit, not implicit, that you were going to try to get to know each other.
MAUGHAN: Oh, so expectation is aligned.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, and I think this is something we can maybe do more of, like, say, for example, you’ve got, like, a new team of people at a company or you’re trying to get people together at a family reunion where some of the people are new to the family reunion. They married into the family. You know, you just say explicitly, like, “Hey, you know, the point of this picnic is that we’re just going to try to get to know each other, and we’re going to try to get close.” I mean, I want to read you the instructions that they gave in the experiment. “This is a study of interpersonal closeness and your task, which we think will be quite enjoyable, is simply to get close to your partner. We believe that the best way for you to get close to your partner is for you to share with them and for them to share with you.” So, they’re making the task quite explicit. So, I think what this tells me about, like, “How do I get to know somebody I don’t yet know — get to click with them faster?” is that it’s important, I think, to escalate the vulnerability. You have the idea that, like, that’s the goal. I think there’s something gross about that to some people, that, like, “Oh, it’s so intentional,” but I don’t know. It’s not so bad.
MAUGHAN: Yeah, but that’s also what’s beautiful. If you want to get to know people, so much of what life is is learning other people’s stories. And what I’d like to hear from our listeners is: how have you connected with someone that you’ve just met for the first time, whether that’s platonic or romantic? And has it lasted? So tell us your name, where you’re from, record it in a quiet place, put your mouth right up to the phone, and email it to NSQ@freakonomics.com. And maybe we’ll play it on a future episode of the show. Angela, I’d love to end with very actionable advice that I learned from someone named Vinh Giang about how to connect with someone you just met.
DUCKWORTH: Who is this person? Are they, like, a self-help person or are they a psychologist?
MAUGHAN: No, so Vinh Giang, he is a — basically a coach on public speaking and connecting with individuals.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, so, like, this is his job.
MAUGHAN: Yes. He said often it’s kind of awkward to ask questions, or we ask the same questions, “Where are you from? What do you do? Da da da.” And so his advice is this: make a positive statement about someone based on something you’ve observed. For example, he says, if you’ve only known someone for 30 seconds, you can say something like, “Having only known you for the last 30 seconds, you seem like someone who’s extremely adventurous.” But it gives this sense that you’ve been observing and noticing. And he says, “Look, three things could come as a result.”
DUCKWORTH: Wait. I say something about you, even in the first moments of meeting you?
MAUGHAN: Yeah. “You seem like someone who is super well read.” Or, “You seem like someone who’s traveled a lot.” Again, based on something you’ve observed, so maybe I see that you’re carrying a big backpack full of books, or maybe I see that you’ve got a bag with — that’s from some other country or something like that. So, it’s genuine. But you make this positive statement, and acknowledge that you don’t know them well, but you seem like someone who, “blank.” It shows some level of observation. And then he said three things can happen from that. One, if you’re completely wrong, they may say something like, “Well, I’m not a big reader, but I want to be.” So, they respond with, “Oh, you’re wrong, but —.” They could ask you why. “Well, I’m not, but what made you say that?” And then you can say, “Well, I saw all the books you’re carrying.”
DUCKWORTH: Even if it’s a correction, it’s like a way of getting closer.
MAUGHAN: Yeah. So there’s some level there. Or you’re right, and then they feel like you know them, and then they just open up and say, “Oh my gosh,” and then you have this great conversation. But I’ve found that to be really interesting, helpful advice on how to connect with people when you first meet them, to make these cold-reading statements rather than just ask very generic questions that lead to the same conversations you’ve already had 5,000 times.
DUCKWORTH: I agree. This is excellent advice. And I will say in these Aron and Aron questions, in the first set, one of the questions is: “Name three things that you and your partner —” meaning the person that you’ve just been paired with, right, this total stranger, “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.” So, that’s similar, right? Like, right off the bat, you’ve only been talking to each other for minutes. And you’re like, “Oh, we seem to both be wearing jerseys from the Utah Jazz. Like, do you also love the Utah Jazz?” Right, that would be a pretty easy one. But then in the second set, there’s: “Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.” So, that’s where you have to go back and forth and say, “You know, we’ve only been talking for like 20-something minutes, but, like, I already love your sense of humor.” And then, you’d have to go and say something positive about me. And you have to do five things. That’s in set two. And then, in the third set — and again, I think this all vibes with the advice you just gave: “Tell your partner something that you like about them already.” So, you can see that these are very similar questions, but they’re supposed to be inserted at three different points in the conversation as you get to more and more intimacy. And I kind of like the advice to make it positive.
MAUGHAN: And I think the most beautiful advice of all is that these are non-confrontational, non-comparative. They’re building each other up. So often, everything becomes like this challenge to one another. And if you’re really looking to connect with someone, it’s to learn about them, not to prove who’s stronger, who’s better, who’s done more.
DUCKWORTH: Well, Mike, I cannot honestly remember our very, very first conversation. But I will say that the very first conversation we had must have been pretty good, because, you know, here we are, and we are still talking.
MAUGHAN: Angela, this has been such a fascinating conversation about how to connect with someone you just met. I’d love to carry on the conversation and talk about connecting with people on a deeper level that we already know. So, maybe we’ll run into that for our next conversation.
DUCKWORTH: Mike, I completely agree that meeting somebody and connecting for the first time is different from deepening a friendship or relationship that you already have. So, to be continued. Let’s talk about it next time we are on No Stupid Questions.
No Stupid Questions is produced by me — Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation:
In the first half of the show, Angela introduces the famous “Aron and Aron” paper — or “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness,” published in 1997. She correctly explains that the goal of the experiment was to encourage feelings of platonic closeness between two strangers. However, we should note that an initial version of the procedure conducted in 1991 paired men and women together with the intention of inspiring feelings of romantic closeness. This 1991 experiment did not use the same 36 questions that were included in the 1997 procedure. “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This” — the 2015 Modern Love column that popularized the 36 questions — mixed up several details from the two studies. For example, the Modern Love columnist writes that two individuals who participated in the 1997 study ended up getting married six months later. This was true of the 1991 experiment, but not the 1997 study.
Then, Angela tells the story of meeting a famous poet on a plane. The former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts is Dana Gioia . Not, as Angela pronounces it, “Goy-uh.” His memoir, which Angela is currently reading, is titled Studying with Miss Bishop: Memoirs from a Young Writer’s Life. Later, Mike says that the second time his childhood home caught on fire, firefighters had to cut out sections of the house to let oxygen come in. But firefighters don’t cut holes in burning buildings for the purpose of letting in oxygen, which, along with heat and combustible material, is actually one of the three ingredients required to make a fire. Rather, the procedure — referred to as “ventilation” — is frequently used as a firefighting tactic to remove smoke, heat, and toxic gasses, to allow firefighters to have better visibility inside of the structure, and to slow the spread of the fire.
Finally, Mike references advice from Vinh Giang, who he refers to as “a coach on public speaking and connecting with individuals.” It’s true that Giang is a keynote speaker who discusses emotional connection. But he’s also well known for his work in another professional arena — not psychology, as Angela guessed, but as a professional magician. That’s it for the fact-check.
Before we end today’s show, let’s hear some of your thoughts about last week’s episode on dealing with major life changes.
Ashley HODGES: Hi, so I’m leaving a message in regards to the big life changes question, and I have to say the podcast really made me reflect on my own life changes. So, I am living in London, grew up in the Midwest in America, and I realized that probably about every five years of my life, I’ve had pretty big upheaval and change — from being six and my parents getting divorced; being 11, moving from the city to the countryside away from my friends; being 15, and my mother passed away. It really turned my world upside down and really made me think differently about both what I wanted to do with my life, how I felt about the people in my life. Also wouldn’t wish any of that on someone. I also, at the same time, kind of look at how it’s made me think about my life and develop my life. I went on later to move states to go to university in Pittsburgh, then move countries to go to London. And then, five years later, get married. And I just think that it very, in a funny way, one, probably made me brave enough and sure enough about my ability to cope with difficulty to do those big life changes, having gone through so many of them. But it also, uh, maybe gives me a bit of itchy feet where I kind of look for and expect those big life changes to come.
Jay POWELL: My name is Jay Powell. I am calling from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. I was an extremely active cross athlete, lifting, running, biking. And then, I contracted idiopathic transverse myelitis, which immediately, within 24 hours, paralyzed me from the neck down. And eventually in hospital, I did recover two thirds of my ability, but I still cannot walk. My primary concern was our grandson, Nicodemus. He latched onto me. He was the most important thing to me and I, apparently, was the most important thing to him. So, when I got sick, my first thought was, “Oh my gosh, what is Nick going to think? He’ll be so scared.” So, what we did was we asked my son to bring Nick over to the hospital. I held him. I kissed him, put my arm around him, and I told him that everything was going to be alright. And he was okay with that, and I felt incredibly relieved. But, frankly, I was extremely surprised that you did not include traumatic, physical, sudden events that can cripple you for life. Because it happened to me. So, anyway. Thanks so much. I love the show.
Zhu SHEN: Hi Angela and Mike, this is Zhu Shen from San Diego. In 2012, I was experiencing the biggest changes in my life, losing my husband of 24 years to cancer, quitting biotech to learn film producing when our young son decided to make an animated tribute to his father. Five years ago, we finished our film that went on to screen and win awards at numerous film festivals, but more importantly, touched so many lives through our storytelling. Now, I have turned pro and I’m writing, directing, and producing my very first documentary. The silver lining is I found a new purpose, inspiration, and hope after loss.
That was Ashley Hodges, Jay Powell, and Zhu Shen. Thanks to them and to everyone who sent us their stories. And remember, we want to hear about your experiences with chemistry and clicking. Tell us about an attempt to bond with someone you just met. What was successful about it? What was awkward? Send a voice memo to NSQ@Freakonomics.com, and you might hear your voice on the show!
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Angela and Mike continue their conversation about deepening connections and discuss how to have stronger, more satisfying relationships with the people you care about.
MAUGHAN: Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.
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No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. And we had research help from Daniel Moritz-Rabson. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!
DUCKWORTH: I had the same experience with Arianna Huffington. Like, she says things sometimes in a kind of oblique way. She doesn’t say, like, “Well, on Tuesday, you tweeted this.”
MAUGHAN: Right. At that point, it’s creepy.
- Elaine Aron, clinical research psychologist and author.
- Arthur Aron, professor of social and health psychology at Stony Brook University.
- Vinh Giang, keynote speaker and magician.
- Dana Gioia, poet and former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts.
- Arianna Huffington, founder and C.E.O. of Thrive Global and founder of The Huffington Post.
- “Love and the Brain, Part 1: The 36 Questions, Revisited,” by Shayla Love (Science Quickly, 2023).
- TikTok on Cold Reading Statements, by Vinh Giang (2023).
- Studying with Miss Bishop: Memoirs from a Young Writer’s Life, by Dana Gioia (2021).
- “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love,” by Daniel Jones (The New York Times, 2015).
- “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” by Mandy Len Catron (The New York Times, 2015).
- “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings,” by Arthur Aron, Edward Melinat, Elaine N. Aron, Robert Darrin Vallone, and Renee J. Bator (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1997).