talk with people who are different from you

Published on May 16, 2020

I had a good conversation earlier today with a long-time friend. We initially connected over our shared ambition of technology and pursuing a career in tech, and we have been in touch for quite some time.

Yet we are both quite different people. I am a writer, and my friend is a designer. We both have very different interests. I think that’s what makes our discussions so interesting.

Some of the best conversations I have had over the last few months have been with people who are different from me in some way.

In my conversation with my friend, we ended up talking about homelessness and ideas to help alleviate the homelessness crisis in San Francisco. I hadn’t thought a lot about this issue -- I knew it existed, but it does not often come up -- but nonetheless we started to discuss it, and a lot came out of our conversation.

After having the conversation, I was armed with a few new pieces of information about the reality of homelessness in San Francisco. I also have a bit more of an insight into the catch-22s which exist in homelessness.

This is not usually a topic I would discuss, not because I don’t find it interesting, but because it is quite far out of my field of interest. If someone asked me to choose between talking about finance and talking about homelessness, I would most likely choose finance, because I know more about finance and understand the space in more depth.

That’s what made today’s discussion so interesting. I was pushed out of my comfort zone, and I loved the experience.

Talking with people who hold similar interests to you is a good way to go deeper on the topics that you are passionate about. Indeed, many of my closest friends work in tech and have similar interests to me.

Discussions with these people are often lacking in one quality: breadth. We go deep into one or two subjects, rather than exploring new fields. The subjects that we do explore are those with which we are already familiar, because we know we can have a good chat on the topic.

I want to start having more discussions with people who are different from me. I want to talk with those who have somewhat similar interests to me, but who have taken the time to explore fields I would never have even considered looking at.

While I must say that I am still very much unacquainted with the issue of homelessness in San Francisco, right now I am a lot more knowledgeable on the subject than I was yesterday. And I also discovered I have more thoughts on the subject than I expected.

Talking with people who are different from you is difficult because you have to step outside of your field of expertise. You have to be vulnerable, and admit you don’t know something.

These interactions are a good way to introduce yourself to new topics. If you want to learn about something new, don’t just talk with someone who has similar interests to you; talk with someone who is thinking about completely different fields.

The benefits of talking with people who are different from you go both ways. In my discussion today, I started talking about Internet Service Providers (ISPs). I wrongfully assumed that my friend knew what an ISP was, and it turned out that they didn’t.

This led to my briefly explaining the topic, then we had a great discussion about internet provision. It wasn’t the most elaborate discussion, but I know that we both learned something that we would not otherwise have learned.

If you want to learn more, talk with people who are different to you. Speak with people who are exploring new ideas. It’s best to start with people whose interests only slightly deviate from yours, but the more experience you build with these types of interactions, the further you’ll want to venture out. There is something really liberating about going into a discussion and having absolutely no idea what direction it could take.

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