4 Reasons Why You Should Talk To Strangers

image of austronauts shaking hands

From a very young age, we are repeatedly told not to talk to strangers.

Since there are bad people out there and young children are not adept at discerning who they are, it seems to be a good idea in order to help protect them.

Unfortunately, the price that we pay for this safety is that children grow up suspicious of others and their motives. We tend to have a “fear” of strangers. This fear is unwarranted as we grow older.

The vast majority of people out there are not sociopaths.

In fact, most people are quite friendly. What once protected us from bad people is now preventing us from establishing relationships with good people!

I think that most of us understand this on an intellectual level.

In general, you know that the random stranger on line next to you is very unlikely to kidnap you, yet the emotion of fear is still associated with talking to them. So you usually don’t do it.

But you miss out on a lot by closing ourselves off to new people like this.

Instead, you should actively assume that people in general are friendly.

This is an especially good assumption to make because it is actually true, and once applied, you will very quickly realize it.

 

Why You Should Talk To Strangers

Here is why we should assume people are friendly:

1. Because They Are.

Like I said, most people actually are friendly.

If you start a conversation with a stranger, there is a very high probability that they will be receptive toward you.

We are social creatures, and as such, we welcome interactions with others.

Think about it; when a stranger starts a conversation with you, how do you usually react?

2. It Can Spice Up That Moment.

Meeting random strangers can be really fun.

You aren’t committed to ever talking to them again, so if the person is really strange, it can make the interaction fun without any negative consequences.

3. It Can Be A Good Story.

Even if a conversation goes poorly, it can make a great story.

Again, you are in no way committed to continuing an interaction with anyone, so no matter how much of a jerk they are, they will be a mere footnote in your life within hours.

And those footnotes can be hilarious in hindsight.

4. You Never Know Who You Might Meet.

The person behind you on line could one day be your best friend or wife.

It happens.

But even if it’s not that extreme, you never know if that person has a job opportunity for you, is in the market for that sound system you want to sell, or is just a cool person who you would enjoy having a conversation with.

 

How To Start Interacting With Strangers

If it’s such a good thing to assume other people are friendly, how do we get from here to there?

First, we must have the right mindset. I like to think of the Circa Survive lyric, “A stranger is just someone that you’ve forgotten.”

Brilliant.

As I was shopping for a computer when getting ready to go away to college many moons ago, there was a girl looking at the same computer.

We talked about it for a minute, and then sometime during the conversation we realized that we knew each other.

It turned out she was Cailey, one of my best friends from elementary school who I hadn’t seen in nearly ten years!

You never know when that stranger near you is actually an old friend, so you might as well assume the best.

Despite this, some people are still afraid to start conversations with strangers. They fear that the interaction will go poorly or it will be embarrassing.

It might.

Sometimes the other person is in a bad mood. Sometimes they are in a rush. And of course, some people are just jerks.

In all these instances, it’s not about you. So don’t take it personally. Remember, it will be a good story.

It’s very rare someone will actually be hostile towards you when you start a conversation.

More common would be to have a seemingly awkward conversation. But since you are under no obligation to keep the conversation going, who cares?

Just stop, and it’s not a big deal.

Most likely though, there will be a friendly exchange, and none of the possible fears will have been warranted.

So, how do we actually go about talking to more strangers?

You can talk to strangers anywhere, but I’ll include a couple of the good ones here.

1. Carry A Lighter.

This is one of my favorites.

A lighter will cost you less than $2, and it will last for a really long time if you aren’t a smoker. I started carrying a lighter after getting asked for a light for the 3287463th time.

This is great because you get to start the interaction by helping someone else out.

They will be grateful for the light, and are among the most receptive people to conversation after that.

2. People In Line.

If you have to wait in line for anything, you have a great opportunity to talk to those in line around you.

There is an automatic commonality between you; you are waiting for the same thing.

It’s also really boring to wait in line, so why not spice it up by talking to someone new?

3. The Internet. 

Obviously, you should use some discretion with this one.

But the internet has great potential for meeting like-minded people in a safe environment.

I recommend using chime.in, which is a social network organized around interests and encourages connections between strangers.

 

Conclusion

There are many more possibilities, but the three above are some of my personal favorites.

If you have any favorite places to meet new people, please share them!

photo by: NASARobonaut

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Comments

  1. One of the biggest impediments to interence random meetings is the pervasive use of smartphones, iPods, and headphones. It’s a great way to turn your brain off to everything outside of you, keeping your experience within a tiny little hole where nobody else can reach. When you’re walking with an mp3 player, you are literally closing one of your most important senses off to the outside world completely. I understand that some people just don’t want to talk to others all the time, but these kinds of electronic distractions are surely killing actual interpersonal communication. Feeling sad and isolated? Try leaving the cell phone at home, right next to the iPod, and going for a walk on a nice day. It’ll do the trick. Next time you’re waiting on a line somewhere, chat with the person next to you instead of playing with your cell. It may just do wonders for you.

    • Mikey D says:

      Great point! I really wish I included that in my post, perhaps I’ll do a follow up in the future.

      Some people I know are so tuned in to their iPhones that they don’t even communicate with those around them in normal circumstances. I’m sure you can think of people who spend their time on wikipedia while there is a whole bunch of other things going on.

  2. It’s a great idea to start a conversation with a stranger with a humorous or witty statement…

  3. I don’t talk to strangers. It just isn’t safe or a good idea in today’s world. It’s safer to keep to yourself.

  4. Your article is very one-sided. Not everyone likes or feels comfortable speaking with strangers, and they have the right to go about their day without being forced to. In my experience, the only strangers who like to be “friendly” to me are creepy men who think it is okay to stare at my chest and persistently harass me and ask me out, even when I say no. These people have no respect for my time or my choices, and it is not my responsibility to oblige them.

    • Mikey D says:

      Thanks for the comment, Emily. Of course, everyone has the right to talk to strangers or not talk to them as they see fit. I’m arguing here that there are some serious benefits to making a habit of talking to strangers more often. The focus is more about approaching others yourself rather than being obliged to talk with those who come up to you. If you truly think someone is creepy, there is no need to talk to them.

      However, I do think you are being presumptive to say that the only people who have been friendly to you are people who want to take advantage of you for your looks. I’m sure there are a few, and they get a disproportionate amount of your attention, because they ARE so annoying. But that doesn’t mean that EVERYONE treats you like that.

    • Jasmin Flowerz says:

      I totally, whole-heartedly agree with you! This article is completely one-sided and the vast percentage of people are corrupt. I’m not saying that everyone is evil, but the majority are..at least where I’ve been living for the past 26+ years. Usually when people approach me it’s to see what I’m all about, mainly an intrusion, to test me out.. I guess my manner of looking down, slight awkwardness and wearing a sun cap piques at them. Overall, in my personal experience this necessity to stop me from what I’m doing, be it shopping or whatever it may be- has never been of genuine interest. Instead, it’s been mainly of an intrusive nature from people that don’t understand or respect people’s boundaries. Think of the pushy, bully-type. These so-called, “friendly” approaches have always been paired with a pretentious, sarcastic speech and an awkward ending (of course, after they finished saying something rude). This only occurs when I’ve allowed myself to get reeled in by this person. When I *don’t* bother to fall as bait.. they’re left open-mouthed, shocked in disbelief that I didn’t permit myself to be forced to talk to a complete stranger. These experiences have mainly taken place in the city of South Beach but I’m darn sure that these *happenings* are much less likely to occur in places like Maine. Lol. What’s wrong with people? I thought I had the right as a human being to decide whether or not I want to engage with a person I’ve never even met in my life! I feel so trapped by these sort of people. I feel like a child instead of the 32 year old woman that I am! I’m so glad that there are reasonable people like yourself in a world of adult bullies and people that lack basic understanding.

      • Thank you for the comment! Do you have any suggestions for people to not come across as negatively as these people who have approached you?

  5. Good article but you lost me with, “carry a lighter.” I can’t stand cigarette smoke.

    • Mikey D says:

      Thanks for the comment, Anabelle! To each their own; I’m sure you aren’t the only person who can’t stand cigarette smoke. And I would imagine people who smoke aren’t the sort of people you necessarily want to meet, then.

  6. Interesting Article. In addition to the fact that I am a very introverted
    (not ambivert with introverted tendencies) person, I also have autism.
    Combine those two together and I’m sure most people will understand why
    I do not enjoy interacting with strangers. This includes others with autism as well.

    The third idea is good because people who don’t want to
    talk can ignore it plus as you said there are places for people to go that want to talk or
    meet new people such as a dating site or meetup.com.

    • Thanks for the comment, Max. I’ve personally found the internet rewarding in this regard. I’m likely not quite as introverted as you are, yet I still get nervous talking to strangers. Online socialization has had positive ramifications for me, even offline.

      • Hah, you’re probably correct in that I’m more introverted – I really don’t interact with too many people and I’m perfectly happy. I know for a fact it drains me when I’m around people; especially strangers.

        Shyness isn’t the same thing as introversion. Shyness is where you might want to talk to people but are just nervous about doing so. Introversion is the concept of needing alone time to recharge. Most introverts such as myself do not enjoy small talk, and we tend to prefer a small circle as opposed to a bigger one. It is possible (and common) to be both shy and introverted. Perhaps you are an ambivert?

        Simply because one is friendly does not mean they want to be your friend or that they care about you. I try my hardest to be friendly but at the same time, I find it extremely difficult to connect with strangers – those are two different things. For instance a waitress will be friendly because they want their job and as big of a tip as possible; at the end of the day they won’t see you again, however.

        The reason above is the sole reason why I think people do not interact with strangers. The need to interact is simply going down, and technology is making it even easier.

        • You bring up some really good points, Max. I hadn’t really though about it, but you are correct to draw a distinction between shyness and introversion. I think the techniques in this post are probably more applicable to shy people rather than introverted people.

          I guess I’m probably an ambivert as you say. There’s no way I could consider myself an extrovert overall, but there are definitely circumstances where I’m rather outgoing. And I do get exhausted being around people and need alone time to recharge.

          • Well I honestly cannot say I’m too shy as I do go out places and talk to people when I feel there is a need to. But that feeling is very rare and I honestly can only think of one time in my entire life I went out to socialize.

            Most people are ambiverts. There are times that I’m in the mood to socialize wit others but those moments occur once in a blue moon. Such socialization adds a lot of pressure. Regardless, I consider myself a pure introvert as well as a homebody and thus the only way I interact with people is either via internet, work (I know everyone very well), family (of course), or through some structured activity such as training at the gym.

            What would your advice be for someone who doesn’t really have too much social anxiety but is introverted to the fact that coming out of the house just doesn’t happen unless there is a reason to?

          • Well my first thought is that that sounds like something that doesn’t really require any advice or guidance. I don’t see anything wrong with being introverted if the social anxiety isn’t there. I guess I could harp on your phrase “unless there is a reason to”; perhaps there are valid reasons for you to leave the house, but a subtle anxiety is keeping you there. I don’t know, obviously.

          • Hey Mike,

            It’s sad that we live in a society that focusses on a lot of disturbing subject matter, which in turn has led us to live in a world of paranoia, where everyone is suspect. Your blog gives me a glimmer of hope, but I suppose only time will tell.

            Jas

          • As long as you yourself aren’t too paranoid, I think there isn’t too much to be concerned about!

            Thanks for the comment, Jason.

  7. I’m in a new city right just trying to meet some new people. Read this article and thought it was great. Thanks for writing. Can’t believe I never thought about the lighter idea before. Though I don’t smoke anymore I’ve been asked for lights countless times. Think I just have to step outside my comfort zone more and strike up conversations with random strangers. You’re right. Worst that can happen is an awkward conversation.

  8. The greatest gift a stranger can give me is to ignore me.

  9. I have a friend who talks to strangers constantly. She seems to think it makes her “cool”. I talk to strangers too but I let it happen naturally… Standino on a supermarket line or I truly like something someone is wearing or a cute kid. My friend compliments people constantly. To them it seems sincere since they’re only hearing her once. To me she’said got some warped need for attention from everyone. It’s absolutely obnoxious. If you feel comfortable talking to strangers, be sincere . Don’t just talk to everyone because you can. That’s phony. Also some people simply don’t want to talk, it has nothing to do with technology, introverts have always existed. Respect theiron right to comfort. She doesn’t and it’s embarrassing sometimes.

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