The Kindness of Strangers

Covid has changed our interactions in everyday life. This article shares some personal and professional reflections. 

Lockdowns and social distancing have been somewhat stifling to one of my favourite pastimes – interacting with strangers. Before Covid-19 I wouldn’t have necessarily listed this as one of my hobbies, up there with my yoga, hiking and the like. However, the pandemic has made me realise how much I enjoy chatting with people I don’t know.

From asking friends and a quick google I see I’m not alone in this feeling. The absence of those on the periphery of our lives has prompted us to realise the significance of strangers.

Luckily for me my profession as a social researcher has helped fill this void. And this has been boosted through my appointment as Head of Research with the Diffley Partnership. I love my interactive and dynamic role. As well as designing and managing qualitative research, I enjoy conducting interviews and focus groups for our private, public and third sector clients.

We have adapted exceedingly well to using online platforms to hold interviews, run focus groups and other types of facilitated session. At the Social Research Association, we have been reflecting upon some of the upsides of online methods such as broadening interaction with participants based across geographies.

There are of course some key differences between interacting with strangers for work and in my spare time. For work these conversations have a focus and a purpose. You have set the stranger’s expectations, including ethical considerations, duration, data handling. Also, throughout the interaction the attention is on them- their experiences and views, never my own.  

Regular interaction with strangers through my work brings me key benefits. These have boosted my well-being whilst opportunity for passing chatter has been thin on the ground. I listen to people with a variety of background, roles and interests. In a typical week I have been interviewing politicians on Zoom, conducting phone interviews with veterans, running a focus group with young people and posing questions to a sexual health nurse. They have kindly given up their time and opened up about their experiences.

Strangely, the pandemic has made me more conscious of the perks of my chosen profession and dedicated to including diverse voices in research. I don’t know about you, but our interactions are something I will never take for granted again.

Fiona Hutchison  June 2021

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