The “Dearden Method” of social interaction

Anyone who has known me for even a short amount of time knows that I really enjoy asking random questions to just about anybody. The goal of this post–only the second on the blog–is to introduce you to what I will call the “Dearden Method” of connecting with nearly anyone (and I use the term “Dearden Method” to refer to one of the two Deardens in our household; Rach points out that she in no way uses, endorses, sanctions, gives blessing to, or otherwise operates under the method in her day-to-day interactions).

The very fact that this is the second thing I am posting about demonstrates the importance of the “Dearden Method” in my everyday life. Whether it’s on the street, in the market, at school, or even on the job site, the “Dearden Method” is a surefire way to connect with friends, co-workers, and even total strangers. Even if a connection is not made initially, the ensuing awkwardness will create a winning conversation piece for down the road. With just a few pieces of key information and a little practice with your friends and loved ones, you too can become adept at connecting with people just like Matt Dearden does using the “Dearden Method.”

History of the Dearden Method

The Dearden Method was not grown in a laboratory or adopted haphazardly during some counseling session. It was developed in the field during daily interactions with people about everyday topics. I have always been a genuinely curious person, and almost anything interests me at some level. A quick glance over some of my current small passions reveals a deep fascination with many areas of life:

trout prince charles mountain lion country music canada bigfoot battle

These pictures flow nicely right into our first checkpoint on the path to successfully mastering the Dearden Method.

Checkpoint #1: Do you have a genuine interest in people and the things they are interested in, and if not, are you willing to at least (1) act genuinely interested, or (2) develop this genuine interest through repetition, behavior modeling, and behavior modification?

Even if people don’t interest you in the least, you can still find success with the Dearden Method using the “fake it till you make it” approach, popularized by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 biographical crime comedy-drama “Catch Me If You Can,” as well as by Frank Abagnale in his real life.

Though the Dearden Method was used with some success throughout my high school and college years, I really started to be intentional about honing my skills as an admissions counselor at Cedarville University. During lunches in the school cafeteria (when we were not eating with visiting students), I would sit with a group of admissions counselors and we would ask each other tons of random questions. This group–which would later come to be self-dubbed the “Fab Five”–was instrumental in developing the famed method:


Sometimes we would start easy, with a question like: “If you could move anywhere in the world, where would it be?” After warming up, we might begin to ask much more advanced questions like: “If you could go on a 2-week road trip with any 3 people–not including your significant other, and accounting for personality differences and other conflicts that may arise–who would you take, where would you go, and at what kind of place would you stay once you arrived?” Some questions were immediate winners and have made their way into the Dearden Method over time. Other questions were duds: “If you could  have one disease for a year, just to see what it was like, what would you choose?”

It wasn’t long before I began to incorporate some of these questions into everyday conversations with friends, family members, and strangers. The results were fantastic. Although the questions are only a part of the Dearden Method, they are an important part. That leads us to our next checkpoint.

Checkpoint #2: Do you have a group of good friends or family around who can practice questions with you? This needs to be a group of people you are extremely comfortable with. You need to be able to test ideas–good and bad. Have fun with it! Make it a game! When you’re starting out, you will probably experience some trouble finding questions that are engaging and creative. As time goes by–and I guarantee you, time will fly once you get going–one question will lead to another and by the end of your time with everyone, you will have a bunch of new questions that you are ready to test out on the general public!

The Method Itself

The Dearden Method is much more than a method, just as the hipster movement is much more than just wearing the right clothes. The Dearden Method is a lifestyle. You must believe it and live it in order to do it. The tips below serve as a beginner’s guide to mastering the method–but know that mastery only comes through practice, and when you practice, you are bound to have some missteps. Don’t get down on yourself–Barry Bonds wasn’t able to hit 73 home runs when he first picked up a baseball bat (it took 16 years in the majors and being pumped full of steroids to do that).

1. The Approach: Bide your time. Nothing is so damaging to the Method as coming on too strong. There is no need to rush your interactions with people. In a small group setting (where, arguably, the method can be most successful), you don’t have to start out pushing the conversation. Let the pleasantries filter themselves through the group, especially if people don’t know each other too well. Wait for your moment.

2. The Moment: The Dearden Method was born out of awkward moments, so there is no better time to ask your first question than when there is an awkward lull in conversation. “Studies” have shown that a natural lull occurs about every seven minutes. If the conversation is awkward from the beginning, feel free to inject at any point!

3. The open ended question: Don’t feel tied to the random poll-type questions discussed above, especially when starting your conversation with an individual. Often, a great way to break into a conversation is with an extremely open-ended question or comment. This can literally be about anything, and these questions are the best when they come out of left field. Examples might include:

  • So, what’s your story?
  • Tell me a little  bit about your journey.
  • What a life, am I right?
  • Well, you can’t win ’em all.
  • It is what it is.

The open ended question can initially be awkward, but it often leads to bigger and better things. During Easter this year, Rach was out of town, and my family lives way out in Washington state, so I had nowhere to go for Easter dinner. Our good friends Chris & Lindsay graciously invited me over to Lindsay’s parents’ house for dinner, and I ended up having a great time. Lindsay’s sisters were also at the dinner, and one of them had brought a date to the dinner. I didn’t know the guy, so in a textbook seven-minute lull in conversation over the meal, I asked him, “So, what’s your story?” While the question was initially awkward for everyone involved, I now know his story, and we were able to bond over March Madness later that afternoon. He and Lindsay’s sister are now dating veterans, and who knows–because the relationship was new, maybe the whole family was able to learn things they otherwise wouldn’t have because of my open-ended question that afternoon.

[I would post a pic of the happy couple, but it would be creepy to pull one off of a Facebook page]

4. Small talk: Feel free to engage in small talk (What do you do?, How many siblings?, Where did you go to school?), but just know that the Dearden Method requires much more of you as the conversation starts to cascade to the next level. Small talk can loosen people up, but, by itself, ultimately leads to an unsatisfying goodbye and “see you later.”

5. The Questions: Many believe that these are the heart of the Dearden Method. You can learn incredible amounts of information about a person or a group of people by asking them seemingly-unrelated random questions. Not only are the questions fun and thought-provoking, but people’s answers often reveal deep truths about the way they think and view the world around them. Furthermore, these questions often lead to valuable, in-depth conversations about a large variety of topics that, if the the questions had remained unasked, would never have been breached. Below are some examples of some tried-and-true questions that can be used in most any setting:

Entry Level

  • If you could have any meal made for you, including the appetizer, main course, drink, and dessert, what would it include?
  • If you could only wear one outfit for the rest of your life, day and night, cold and warm, what would it be?
  • If you could only eat one category of meat (pork, poultry, beef, fish) for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
  • If you could try one job for a year, no strings attached, and you could go back to your current job/situation right after, what job would you try?
  • If you could sit down and have lunch with any three movie stars for an hour each, who would you choose?
  • If you could go to any sporting event and have front row seats, what would it be?

More advanced

  • If you had to be another race, which race would you choose?
  • If you could have any animal as a pet, and it would be fully trained to do whatever you wanted it to do, what animal would you choose?
  • If you were deep in the woods, alone, on a dark rainy night, what would be the thing you would least like to see if you turned around?
  • If you were the lead singer in a popular band or singing group, what kind of music would you sing?

These are the tip of the iceberg, and I can’t give away all of my secrets in a blog post. I hope that you are able to come up with some of your own and will start using them with your friends and acquaintances!

There is no better way to learn the Dearden Method than to (1) practice it yourself, and (2) observe someone who has mastered it. Although “card carrying members of the Dearden Method” are few and far between, I have several friends that have really taken their social interactions to the next level using aspects of the Dearden Method. There is one final thing to note about this whole process: the Dearden Method is different for everyone. Chris Beals using the Dearden Method is going to look a whole lot different than Lindsay Beals (his wife) using the Dearden Method. You have to MAKE it your own, because you can only FAKE it for so long (as Frank Abagnale found as he was beaten to within an inch of his life in a dank French prison).

More than anything, the Dearden Method emphasizes being genuinely interested in people. If you are genuinely interested in your acquaintances and in what they are saying, you can’t go wrong! Develop a love for people and their passions, and soon people will become your passion.

4 thoughts on “The “Dearden Method” of social interaction

  1. Dear Deardon,

    How do you go about a conversation that is spiraling uncontrollably into a dark awkward abyss, and escaping the conversation is futile? Ex: Thanksgiving dinners, 5-hour plane conversations, hunting trips in the wilderness, etc.

  2. As a member of the fab five and one of the key guinea pigs during the development of this method, I can attest to its value and effectiveness. If you are concerned by the frequent use of the word “awkward” when describing the application of this process (as I know some may never try out of fear of being/feeling/looking awkward), l would like to argue that it’s definitely worth a try. Though the Dearden Method is born out of awkward moments, and often leads to more awkward conversation, somehow it isn’t uncomfortable. It is awkward, but not uncomfortable. As an observer of this method it looks kind of like this: Awkward moment -> Left Field Question -> Awkward Hesitation (thinking, “Where did that come from?”). -> Nervous Response -> Laughter/Follow Up Question/Genuine Interest -> Deeper Relationship. After this initial ice breaker the process changes completely to: Left Field Question -> Answer -> Deeper Relationship. Win-Win for all.

    So, overall I give the Dearden Method a 4.75 out of 5 for – effectiveness, a 1 out of 5 for – smooth/ninja-like precision, and an overall 4.9 out of 5 for – you should try it.

  3. Pingback: My (Rach’s) Response to the “Dearden Method” | Dearden Digressions

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