Reflections on BuddyHub’s New ‘Connecting Through Questions’ Events So Far!

Reflections on BuddyHub’s New ‘Connecting Through Questions’ Events So Far!

6 min read

As an organisation, BuddyHub has always been intrigued by how friendship works. Not just the positive stuff. How we find a common spark and try to make sense of the world together. But the things that get in the way. The barriers that make cultivating connections with new people difficult. And the mechanisms that we can use to bypass them or knock them down. 

It’ll come as no surprise, then, that we’ve been trialling an event since the beginning of the year that takes a close look at exactly what helps people to connect. When conceptualising these events, our aim  was simple: design an evening where people who don’t know each other meet for the first time and feel connected to each other by the end of the session.

Sounds easy, huh? Not quite! 

Asking questions, making connections

For sure, we’ve had our own experience of connecting people through our Friendship Wheels. To begin with, these were predominantly intergenerational, though age-peer friendships often developed within them as our initial operating model enabled Buddies to meet up and get to know each other too. 

We also had the feedback we’d gathered from co-design sessions we undertook last year with Professor Robin Dunbar, a leading expert in the social science which underpins friendships. It’s been a privilege working with Robin. And the sessions gave us the opportunity to identify the things that helped people connect effectively. One key insight was that people felt most connected to one another only when the social anxiety of being in a room with new people had subsided. The most effective way to do this? Make them laugh! 

As you might expect, there was no magic formula to underlay the design of the sessions. But what became clear was we could encourage participants to take ownership of this opportunity to get to know each other and make one another laugh by priming them with a set of  questions. Constructing them in an open-ended style meant people could think about their answers whilst also giving them the opportunity to pass or pontificate on their answer. The questions ranged from the light-hearted, through the obviously silly, to deeper questions that facilitated self-disclosure.

The beauty of this approach is that good quality questions encourage people to open up about themselves, talk about what makes them tick and discuss what they value most. Participating in these sessions, you can’t help but listen with open ears as your curiosity is piqued about the other people in the group. Especially, if you find things that make you laugh! In the process, you start to move beyond the superficial (and often painful) interactions that tend to characterise first encounters and start to build something authentic together.

Building a shared reality

At our successful first event, we found out about people’s past, their hopes, dreams and fears, and their favourite way to eat ice cream! 

By the time the next event came around, we had gathered a larger group. Ranging from women in their 50s to men in their early twenties, coming from various parts of the world. They all had their own perspectives on life, formed by their different life experiences. But they also had something in common: the desire to connect meaningfully with other like-minded people. 

And we took the opportunity to reflect on some of the biggest challenges facing the world today, including toxic masculinity and the war in Ukraine. Subjects that, without the space for discussion, go on living in our heads, not always to our benefit. The crucial thing was that we tackled these often difficult topics in a spirit of enquiry, in a compassionate way, reflecting respectfully on each person’s contribution.

At the most recent session, we had an incredibly stimulating conversation which culminated in the discovery that all attendees shared a common thread. They were all artists. One still early in her journey, painting landscapes as she learned about colour theory and approached retirement. Another a seasoned artist who spoke of the nuances required in painting pet portraits and capturing the reflection of the owner in their eyes. We talked about the process we took to create the art and what the essence of creativity is all about.

What strikes us as fascinating in all of this is how we can use our exploration of things beyond ourselves to help strike up a rapport with people we’ve never met before. As the American poet E.E. Cummings said: “Always the more beautiful answer, who asks the more beautiful question.”

We’re certainly looking forward to our next session on 5th April. Who knows what we’ll find out about one another! 

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