Updated: Jun 1, 2020
This one word can be the beginning of…
An interesting conversation
A valuable business connection
A partner for life
Do you ever talk to strangers?
I think there is something magical about it.
It’s like visiting a new country.
Discovering a new place.
Step by step you are learning more.
The person you talk to, lived a whole life, without you knowing anything about it.
Thousands of stories and experiences to be uncovered.
When growing up, we learn that we shouldn’t talk to strangers.
It can be dangerous.
As adults, we still behave like everyone is carrying a gun.
If you don’t know the other person, you are not supposed to talk.
It seems to be this social “rule”.
Many people built walls around them.
They just mind their own business.
Smartphones made these walls even higher.
That makes it difficult to connect with another person.
In high school, I was the best bricklayer in the world.
I created huge walls around myself.
Going out of my safe zone was very difficult for me.
I’m not even talking about talking to strangers.
If I think about it now, I was so scared.
One time, I saw a friend biking on the other side of the street who didn’t see me.
What did I do?
I didn’t even call out his name. I did not want to attract any attention.
But now I see there are many benefits of getting out of this safe bubble.
Benefits of talking to strangers
I already mentioned in the introduction: Saying hello can be the beginning of a great connection. And I see three more benefits:
It can be a lot of fun
It gives a lot of stories
Every time you talk to a stranger, you will gain some confidence.
Imagine you enter the metro.
The easy path is: you sit down, put your headphones on and you glue your head to your Instagram feed.
Taking the hard path is: make contact with a stranger.
It’s a challenge, as you will need to break down your own wall, and the one of the other person. Overcoming these small challenges will help you to overcome other difficulties in your life.
Also, when you practice talking to strangers, you will improve at connecting with people in general.
If I can talk to a stranger, I feel like I can talk to anyone.
How to do it: 6 steps
0) Before we start, let's talk about step 0.
I'm best at connecting with others if I'm at peace with myself.
My own needs fulfilled.
Not thinking about my to-do list, ruminating about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow.
If I feel rushed, with a whirlwind of thoughts in my mind, I find it challenging to connect with others.
That's why I make it a practice to keep myself mentally balanced.
Sports, meditation, writing, shower, listening music, calling a friend.
These can all help prepare myself to authentically connect with others.
1) Have the right mindset
Don’t be focused on the outcome.
Even if no fun conversation follows with the stranger, be glad that you started the conversation.
You are building a habit of doing what you think it's best.
Training yourself to do so, irrespective of the outcome, will increase your confidence.
2) Make eye contact
Show that you are not a threat.
Make them comfortable.
Give them the confidence that you won’t steal their bag.
4) Say: "Hello"
Sounds easy, doesn't it?
5) Third person or object
Make a remark about a third person or object. This could be a beautiful building, or someone singing on the street.
Saying something directly about the other person directly can feel intrusive.
But: you can skip this if you feel confident that it’s not needed
6) Deeper connection
Two suggestions to deepen the connection:
i) Compliment the other person. Only do so if it’s honest.
ii) Disclosure: give some more about yourself. Tell what’s happening inside you: say it feels random to approach someone. Reveal something about your life.
The start is not the most important.
How you follow up is.
Try to listen actively, with acknowledgement and without judgment.
One of the biggest needs of everyone is the need to be understood.
If you help them to realize they matter, they will likely open up.
A memorable conversation may follow.
You can try this out with anyone.
Hereby two of my personal examples:
A challenge for you
Now I realize that the world is happening around me, and not in my head.
Staying in my safe zone seems comfortable, but if I break down my own wall there is so much more to discover.
I would like to give you a challenge: talk to a stranger today.
Understand: a connection is just one word away.
Make eye contact.
And say the magic word.
Of course this is not the only way to connect with strangers. This is what works for me, and I would love to learn from you.
What works best for you?