Sign in

A publication from Medium on personal development.


In Forge. More on Medium.

When I let small talk with strangers spiral into something deeper, it became a book about memorable interactions. Here’s what I learned.

Photo: Getty Images / janiecbros

The best conversations crack us open. They leave us tender and reeling, alive again with possibility, mesmerized by the uncanny nature of things. When you really “get there” with someone, you reach what my friend once referred to as the wilderness. You may not know where you are anymore, but you know it’s a place of mystery and beauty. You know you want to keep going. I felt this most acutely a few years ago when I kept having unexpected interactions with strangers. I wrote a book about those experiences — No One You Know, which is very much a…

🥝 Today’s tip: Try an unexpected kind of fruit.

It’s really hard to come up with anything interesting to say over dinner when you and your kids have been in the same building staring at screens all day, or when the only new thing on the horizon is a vaccine appointment. But rather than just stare at each other blankly over your next meal or social zoom, try this tip from Catherine Newman: Buy a social fruit.

Newman writes in Cup of Jo, “Whenever someone is shopping or ordering groceries online, I say, ‘Oh, and get some social fruit.’ This…

☎️ Today’s tip: Call an important woman in your life.

Women’s History Month is a great time to remember all the women who have helped to make this world a little better — including the women who have made your world a little better. Should we do that every month? Yes, yes we should. But still, there’s nothing wrong with taking it as a nudge to call Mom, Grandma, or some other woman-identifying figure who has meant a lot to you on your journey through life. They’ll be happy, you’ll be happy — it’s a win-win,

And hey, just in…

🔥 Today’s tip: Ask someone about their favorite low-stakes hot take.

Recently there was a flurry of conversation among Medium’s staff about, of all things, Grape Nuts, the world’s most boring cereal. Turns out people feel very strongly about it.

“I eat it dry sometimes,” said one of our colleagues, who shall go unnamed.

“There is no un-dry way to eat it,” replied another.

“It’s so good when it gets cement-y,” someone else shared.

The discussion was revealing — and a much-needed break from the seriousness of daily work life. It turns out trading spicy opinions about something inconsequential is…

In the aftermath of a presidential debate that was legitimately scarring to witness, we return to ‘bunny trailing.’ That is, number five of Melody Stanford Martin’s 10 conversational hazards to avoid during conflict. You could also call it ‘whataboutism.’ Whatever your chosen nomenclature, it describes veering a conversation away from the matter at hand and threatening to derail the whole exchange in the process. And, courtesy of President Donald Trump, it made for a couple of particularly tense moments in Tuesday night’s debate.

If you have the stomach for it, our friends at GEN laid out the play-by-play.

Oops. Ouch. Whoa.

Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

When I’m catching up with an old friend, or ranting to a work buddy, I don’t think much about conversational structure. But some conversations aren’t so easy. In those tougher discussions, it can help to lay out some rules ahead of time, as awkward as that might feel at first.

One tool that I’ve found immensely helpful for navigating difficult conversations comes out of community activism. I learned it in a parenting and racial equity workshop, and it’s called Oops, Ouch, Whoa. Here’s how it works:

  • If you say something that comes out wrong, that you suddenly realize is kind…

Let’s assume our friends and family can handle uncomfortable conversations

Photo: SDI Productions/Getty Images

Sensitivity — what I define to my therapy clients as the ability to detect distress in others — is a foundational part of being a person. It can create stronger bonds and a more equitable society. But as a therapist, I often observe how misapplied sensitivity can weaken or even destroy a relationship: Often, it’s control in disguise.

When we care about people, we are extra-sensitive to their anguish, which can mean avoiding certain topics of conversation. Maybe you don’t bring up money challenges with a friend who has a lot of student loan debt. …

Who We’ll Be After This

What happened when I looked outside of my noisy head

Photo illustration. Sources: Oliver Rossi/Getty Images, Westend61/Getty Images, Brigitte Sporrer/Getty Images

On a recent walk around the block, I saw my neighbor, Ted, coming the other way.

Ted and I are friendly, but don’t know each other that well. I threw out a “Hey buddy!” but didn’t break stride. While he’s usually good for a smile and a wave, all I got in return were raised eyebrows and a lukewarm head nod.

In my pre-quarantine days, I would have thought, “Well, Ted’s being a bit of a crab today,” and maintained my brisk 21-minute-per-mile pace. But these are not normal times, so I crossed the street and stopped six feet short.

The pandemic is exposing cracks in relationships that may have been there all along

Two young women with protective masks hanging out in the park with a dog during the coronavirus outbreak.
Two young women with protective masks hanging out in the park with a dog during the coronavirus outbreak.
Photo: lechatnoir/E+/Getty Images

Lately, my social media feed has been full of surprises: a childhood friend, one I’d long considered a kindred spirit, sharing a pandemic conspiracy theory on Facebook. A mom I used to regularly run into at the playground, posting photos of her mask-free dinner party.

Like a lot of people, I’m leaning on my friendships more than I ever have before — a long-standing group chat with my three best friends feels like a lifeline right now, even though the conversation mostly consists of musings about whether it’s okay to go to the grocery store for just one thing. (Consensus…

“Bridgesplaning” might be annoying, but sometimes it has a purpose

A photo of a slightly disgruntled woman looking at a man talk, waiting for him to finish.
A photo of a slightly disgruntled woman looking at a man talk, waiting for him to finish.
Photo: georgeclerk/Getty Images

There’s a classic Saturday Night Live sketch called “The Chris Farley Show,” in which Chris Farley fumbles his way through an interview with the music legend Paul McCartney: “Remember when you were with the Beatles, and you were supposed to be dead?” asks Farley. “That was a hoax, right?”

“Yeah,” says a very alive McCartney.

In a sketch, it’s funny to keep going over something super-basic that everyone knows. It’s much less funny in real life when you are trying to get things done and someone else, instead of being useful, decides to tell you something that you didn’t ask…

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store