Talking to Strangers

As lockdown restrictions ease, we are learning again how it feels to be face to face with others, be they business contacts, friends, family or strangers and I, for one, am thankful. My recent ‘live’ encounters have been friendly, productive and enjoyable in ways that Zoom can never match. And we have been able, at last, to share food!

But I have been particularly excited by the novelty of meeting new people. This is not surprising, since there is much research evidence that demonstrates how reaching out to strangers has the potential to do more good than harm. In plain words, talking to strangers is good for us.

I know that we were taught as children not to talk to people we didn’t know, but that is a sensible precaution, since kids are not very good at discerning hidden intentions. As adults, we are better equipped in that respect and we can make appropriate judgements with a degree of confidence. However, the wariness instilled in us as kids can remain with some of us into adulthood, inhibiting our interactions with new acquaintances. If this is the case, then we risk missing out on the benefits of enlarging our circle. Here are five good reasons to address the issue.

  1. To make new friends. Friends give us support, encouragement, opportunities to learn from each other, help in making better life choices, dealing with stress and avoiding loneliness. Remember that those friends were all strangers at one point in our lives, so why rule out making new ones?
  2. To gain a new perspective. Interacting with people from different backgrounds helps us understand the first-hand experiences of others and to be more understanding and accepting. By thus expanding our awareness, we become more sensitive and empathetic.
  3. To improve social skills. The more we talk to people, the quicker we learn how to make small talk, move on to conversation and ultimately how to have engaging and meaningful interactions.
  4. To learn new things. It is too easy to fall into the trap of talking only to people like ourselves, in which case we limit what we learn from strangers, who may well have very different experiences, education, interests and world views.
  5. To boost self-confidence. The more we make a habit of talking to strangers, the less anxious we will feel about it, so that in social situations we feel less awkward or shy. That confidence really counts when you want to introduce yourself to people you are interested in, whether to learn from, to work with, or to date!

And if these are not convincing reasons, research shows that both extroverts and introverts feel better when they have spoken to someone new. So, the next time you encounter a stranger strike up a conversation. It's likely to go significantly better than you might expect, leaving both of you feeling happier and better connected.

A TED talk by Kio Stark Why You Should Talk to Strangers is well worth a viewing.