Serendipitous and spontaneous communication

February 21, 2022

<img alt="Louis Tay " height="288" src="/render/file.act?path=z_images/bios/research-collaborative/Louis-Tay.jpg"

A chat with a neighbor you come across while taking a walk, a pleasant conversation with the stranger sitting next to you on a plane, and an instant message exchange with a classmate after replying to their Instagram story. We often encounter these communication situations with people outside our immediate social circles.

Research shows that many of us confide in weak ties. We often talk about important and personal matters with people we do not have an especially close relationship with. There are many reasons we might do this. Sometimes, we find it easy to talk to people just because they are around – they are accessible in a given moment and space, by sitting next to us or by being in the same area during an activity. Other times, we might realize our weak ties have some knowledge or expertise that interests us. We may also feel less pressured talking to weak ties because they do not have high expectations for us and what we discuss is less likely to travel to our other social contacts.

Sharing information about ourselves, also called disclosing, drives new relationships and cultivates a path for receiving the support we need. Disclosing also helps with unloading our emotions and becomes therapeutic. It feels nice to get stuff “off our chest.” Disclosures can involve not just talking about negative events and challenges but also sharing positive news. A study discovered that telling others about good things that happen to us, when met with an active and constructive response from the other person, can improve our well-being.

Seugnyoon Lee

Although our lives continue to be affected by the pandemic, which limits the way we socialize, we can try to find ways of stumbling upon new encounters and expanding our communication network. You might:

  • Participate in activities with people outside your immediate social circle of family members and close friends. For example, you could attend campus and community events, go to a group fitness class, or join a hobby club.
  • Greet the people you encounter in your everyday life. Appearing friendly opens the door for others to chat with us. We may find support and empathy from – and give support and empathy to – loose acquaintances and even strangers.
  • Be willing to strike up a conversation with someone you might not feel close with. For instance, you could ask the person in line behind you how their day is going, comment on the Facebook post of a distant friend, or ask a receptionist for advice.

Dr. Seungyoon Lee and Dr. Bailey Benedict


Seungyoon Lee is an Associate Professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication. Her research and teaching focuses on social network analysis, resilience, and organizational communication.

Bailey Benedict received her Ph.D. in Communication from Purdue University and is an Assistant Professor of Management at California State University – San Bernardino. She studies social networks, resilience, and uncertainty.

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