Surprising Similarities

People are similar and different from each other in several ways. One of the effective techniques in forming friendships is to identify – and discuss – similarities with others. Surprising Similarities is an activity that encourages in-depth conversations for about unexpected similarities.


Find a partner who is extremely different from you. Have a conversation with this partner to discover unexpected similarities. Present these similarities to others and listen to the presentations from the other pairs.


  • To explore subtle similarities between you and someone else.

  • To explore the effect of deep conversations and sharing of personal information related to such factors as personality traits, talents, habits, relationships, professional responsibilities, and educational background.


Minimum: 2

Maximum: Any number

Best: 6 to 20


15 to 30 minutes




Room Set-Up

Have enough space to permit the participants to roam around, pair up, and talk each other. If possible, conduct this as a stand-up activity by removing all chairs from the room.


Observe fellow participants. Invite the participants to stand up, walk around, and silently observe each other. Encourage them to pay particular attention to the others who very different from themselves.

Pair up with a different partner. After about two or 3 minutes, blow your whistle and get everyone’s attention. Ask the participants to form into pairs in which the two people appear to be as different from each other as possible.

Assign a conversational challenge. Instruct each pair of participants to have conversation. Explain the purpose of this conversation: to discover one or more ways in which the two people are similar to each other. Tell them to avoid obvious similarities and dig deeper to identify subtle similarities. Give examples to explain your expectation:

Obvious similarities (to be avoided):

  • We are both tall.

  • We are both wearing shirts of the same color and same pattern.

  • We both have MBA degrees,

Surprising similarities (to be detected).

  • Both of us were spin bowlers when we were in the college cricket teams.

  • According to Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, we are both INFPs, with high scores on the NF components.

  • We both have plans to run for a political office in the local government.

Suggest a suitable time limit and request the participants not to eavesdrop on other peoples’ conversations.

Invite presentations. At the end of the time limit, blow the whistle and ask people to bring their conversations to a close. Randomly select different pairs and ask the participants to share the surprising similarities they had discovered. Make sure that everyone has an opportunity to share their secret similarities.


To ensure maximum insights, conduct a debriefing discussion after the presentations. Use the following types of questions to structure this discussion:

How did feel about this activity? How did you feel about the conversation with your partner and about the presentations by the other pairs?

Did you have difficulty in locating a person who is different from you? Why was it difficult?

Did your relationship with your partner change as a result of your conversation?

What factors did you talk about in your conversations? What other factors could you have talked about?

Were you surprised by the nature and number of unexpected similarities between you and your partner? Were you surprised by the similarities reported by other participants?

What if you were organized into teams of five and asked to discover some subtle commonalities among the team members? How would this activity become different?

Have you ever accidentally discovered surprising similarities between you and one of your colleagues? How did this discovery affect your professional relationship?

What did you learn about hidden similarities among the people in your workplace? What do you think is learning point of this activity?

Present the two learning points listed below. Invite the participants to comment on them.

Learning Points

  1. Any two people share several similarities. Some of these similarities are clearly observable while some others are hidden.

  2. It takes deep conversations to discover hidden similarities. When these similarities are discovered, it brings the people closer together.


If you have an odd number of participants, permit a triad (group of three) of different looking people to complete the steps and discover unexpected similarities among the three of them.


Ask the participants to pair up with someone who is as similar to each other as possible. Later, invite them to hold a conversation to discover one or more hidden differences between them.