Rek Bell

Stranger engagement

The everyday nature of interacting with strangers is a byproduct of urbanization, which has created a culture of dense populations with sparse interconnections. Even the simplest exchange among strangers can contain a tangled accumulation of meanings. Below are terms regarding human interactions in the concrete jungle.

Triangulation : remarking on something external to both you and the stranger—something you’re both experiencing or observing.

Exquisite interruption : interruptions into the expected narrative of your daily life and that of a stranger.

Emotionally risky : embracing the sensation of being “the stranger” who doesn’t belong, like getting lost in a neighborhood and asking for directions.

Civil inattention : maintaining a balance between civility and privacy. Acting civilized toward one another, but also not being attentive. Being alone, but together. "Two people are walking towards each other on the street. They'll glance at each other from a distance. That's the civility, the acknowledgment. And then as they get closer, they'll look away, to give each other some space."

Fleeting intimacy : (or fleeting relationships) transient connections that form emotional valences and momentary interdependence between individuals.

Diffusion of responsibility

Phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction when others are present. Consequences includes:

Groupthink. When each of the individuals comprising a group desires and cares more about reaching consensus and total agreement than critically examining, understanding, and utilising information.

Social loafing. The tendency for individuals to expend less effort when working collectively than when working individually.

Helping behavior. An individual's choice to help or intervene when there is an emergency depends on the number of bystanders. The individual's appraisal of the situation and subsequent action or inaction largely depends on the reactions of other people (bystander effect).

Moral engagement. With diffusion of responsibility, it has been found that people feel less accountable for their work. This lack of accountability can be due to the fact that labour is divided amongst members in a group and so no one member feels an overwhelming amount of responsibility for their organisation or their overall project. It has been found that many members get narrowed into focusing on their individual work, that they eventually forget about any moral aspects. Purely focusing on the functional aspects of their jobs is a result of division of labour, which is a mechanism for diffusion of responsibility.

Risk-taking behaviour. The increased likelihood for a group to support or partake in a risky decision or action (risky-shift effect). When people are in groups, they make decisions about risk differently from when they are alone. In the group, they are likely to make riskier decisions, as the shared risk makes the individual risk less.

Cognitive biases

Individuals create their own "subjective reality" from their perception of the input. An individual's construction of reality, not the objective input, may dictate their behavior in the world. Thus, cognitive biases may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality.

Automation bias : the propensity for humans to favor suggestions from automated decision-making systems and to ignore contradictory information made without automation, even if it is correct.

Hyperbolic discounting : the perception that the present is more important than the future.

The sunk-cost fallacy : the more we've invested time, energy or resources into a course, the more likely we are to stick with it – even if it no longer seems optimal.

Endowment effect: when we overvalue something that we own, regardless of its objective market value.

Group polarization : the tendency for a group to make decisions that are more extreme than the initial inclination of its members.

Illusory correlation : the phenomenon of perceiving a relationship between variables (typically people, events, or behaviors) even when no such relationship exists.

Consistency bias : remembering one's past attitudes and behavior as more similar to one's present attitudes.

Egocentric bias : the tendency to rely too heavily on one's own perspective and/or have a higher opinion of oneself than reality.

Confirmation bias : the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or strengthens one's prior personal beliefs or hypotheses.

Framing : using a too-narrow approach and description of the situation or issue.

Appeal to emotion : a logical fallacy characterized by the manipulation of the recipient's emotions in order to win an argument, especially in the absence of factual evidence.

Naive realism : the tendency to believe that we see the world around us objectively, and that people who disagree with us must be uninformed, irrational, or biased.


Commonalities help create bonds when meeting people for the first time, kids do it all the time. Here are some questions to start with to find commonalities when talking to strangers during social events, or outside.

What excites you right now? Gives others ability to give work-related, or more personal answers.

What are you looking forward to? Similar to above, but forward-looking than backward-looking, allowing others to choose from a bigger set of possible answers.

What’s the best thing that happened to you this year? An open-ended question that gives others a wealth of answers to choose from.

Where did you grow up? Less assertive and loaded way than “Where are you from?” Allows them to answer with simple details from childhood or to engage in their story of how they got to where they are right now and what they’re doing.

What are you afraid of? A way to connect with the other on a more personal, deeper level.