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36 Questions that Will Turn Strangers into Friends

A powerful empathy exercise for team building. 36 questions that can turn strangers into friends and partners.

By Gustavo Razzetti

August 29, 2019

A powerful empathy exercise for team building (and increasing self-awareness too)

Knowing each other well is more than a nice to have. Deep empathy increases understanding, communication, and teamwork.

This empathy exercise is a quick way to turn strangers into friends or to strengthen already existing team relationships.

What are the 36 questions?

How might we find a way to create instant intimacy between strangers?

This question led Arthur Aron to discover how to create deep empathy quickly. He started testing a series of questions over and over. He brought together pairs of strangers who asked each other a series of increasingly personal questions.

After decades of research, he finally landed on a total of 36 questions.

Aron’s work became famous when a New York Times article went viral. People refer to them as the questions that can lead to love.

The “36 questions” empathy exercise is a quick way to get to know everyone — not just your lover. It’s perfect for accelerating teamwork or launching new teams.

How to practice this empathy exercise?

There are three sets of questions to turn strangers into friends.

They become more and more personal. This empathy exercise increases not only team building, but also self-awareness. It confronts us with things we usually don’t ask ourselves.

Get the team or group together and distribute them in pairs. Share the questionnaire and let each duo answer them on their own.

Both people must answer the question before moving to the next one. It’s convenient to rotate the order in which they answer each question. The one who answered last should be the first to answer the next one.

If you have time, you can ask each duo to go out for a coffee and spend one hour answering all the questions.

If your time is limited, choose a smaller set and focus on those. Remember to keep the progression from less to more personal ones. Ideally, select a few from each set.

Avoid the temptation of turning this into a public exercise. People become more open in front of another person than a large crowd. Intimacy builds empathy.

Arthur Aron’s 36 empathy questions list

Here’s the full list of questions from Arthur Aron’s empathy exercise to turn strangers into friends.

36 Questions – SET I

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
  4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
  5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
  7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
  8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
  9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

36 Questions – SET II

  1. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
  2. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  3. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
  4. What do you value most in a friendship?
  5. What is your most treasured memory?
  6. What is your most terrible memory?
  7. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
  8. What does friendship mean to you?
  9. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
  10. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
  11. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
  12. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

36 Questions – SET III

  1. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “
  2. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “
  3. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  4. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
  5. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
  6. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
  7. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
  8. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  9. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
  10. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
  11. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
  12. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Use this exercise to strengthen interpersonal relationships. You can apply it to increase empathy and bonding among team members, but it’s also an effective exercise to deepen exiting relationships with your friends and family members.

Looking for more ways to build a stronger team. Check out our remote team offsite offering.

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