This article is based on a speech delivered on December 4, 2006. The topic was inspired by Leil Lowndes book “How to Talk to Anyone – 92 little tricks for big success in relationships”.
As a child did you have the experience of being out somewhere with your mother when an unknown grown-up spoke to you and you continued talking? Your mother grabbed your hand, dragged you away and said “Don’t talk to strangers'”.
But now that you are grown up, are you still living by your parent’s advice of not talking to strangers?
Are your social interactions limited to just the people to whom you are introduced?
The advice of “Don’t talk to a stranger” is no longer relevant!
So what is a stranger? Quite simply, a stranger is someone you haven’t met yet. Now there is nothing wrong with talking to a stranger in most situations. A conversation could be as simple as asking someone for directions, asking the time or offering help to someone.
A few weeks ago I was on my way home leaving Wahroonga station. I saw an older woman about to lug a suitcase up the stairs. I offered to help, we both carried the case up to street level. She looked at me and said “Thank you. You are a real gentleman!”. Can you imagine what a warm glowing feeling that gave me?
Of course you don’t need to strike up a conversation with everyone you meet, otherwise you might be branded as mentally deranged or a public nuisance. But don’t you think it strange sitting next to someone on a three hour flight in cramped economy class and not exchanging a single word?
Sydney is a busy city but I think many people are suffering from loneliness and longing to talk to new people and make friends. There are the exceptions of course such as the young woman I saw at North Sydney station last week. Her iPod headphones were jammed in her ears, she fiddled with her mobile phone and wore sunglasses – at eight o’clock in the morning’. The message was clear – LEAVE ME ALONE!
It’s easy to talk to people you already know because you have something in common. But talking to strangers pushes most of us way out of our comfort zone, with many barriers to cross – most of them self-imposed – fear of rejection, fear of having nothing in common and a fear of looking foolish by saying something stupid.
Let’s examine the barrier of thinking you have nothing in common. We all have something in common – at the very least being human and living on planet Earth.
There are many situations where the location automatically provides something in common, an office party, conference, a school function or a Toastmasters meeting.
So how do you get started? It doesn’t really matter too much what you say to begin with – the important thing is to make the connection by just speaking.
For example, when I am watching my daughter play sport and I want to meet another parent, the opening question is easy: “Which is your daughter?” as I cast my eye over the hockey field. Did you notice I am not even asking for a name? It doesn’t take much thinking to formulate an opening question or statement.
I attended the school Christmas Carol service a few weekends ago. Ann older gentleman asked me what time the service started – an easy question to answer. We continued the conversation for at least 10 minutes. I learnt that his grand-daughter was at the school in Year 9. Soon a fellow Year 10 (my daughter’s year) parent arrived and I introduced him to my new acquaintance.
But how do you talk to a stranger when here is less in common? What can you say without your opening sentence being threatening, or sounding like a pickup line?
A good strategy is to look for something of interest the person is wearing or carrying that you can make a comment about. It could be a hat, a sloganed t-shirt, a piece of jewellery or even a name badge. Why do you think they give out name badges at conferences? They are tools for introductions!
The focus of your opening conversation is the item, not the person, so you won’t appear threatening or imposing. If you want strangers to talk to you, then wear something that can start a conversation!
My final sugggestion in my brief survey of conversation starters is to use your sense of humour, delivered with a friendly smile as you look directly into the person’s eyes when you speak. People appreciate humour that lightens their day and adds some fun.
The lifts in my office provide many opportunities for talking to strangers. The hit and miss nature of the card key swipe panel and the lightning speed of the dosing doors provides many situations for a humorous exchange. The aroma of a takeaway coffee carried by a fellow lift occupant is often a goad conversation starter the morning.
A conversation in the lift is not too threatening as the journey is so short, unless of course you get stuck for thirty minutes.
In conclusion I encourage you to drop any fears and pretension about talking to strangers. Practice talking to someone new every day – man and woman, young and old.
Who knows what great friendships are ahead of you until you start making your own introductions?
In the world of strangers, you will find new friends, new inspiration, and new business and career contacts. And for those seeking it, you could find new romance!
So what are you waiting for? Talk to a stranger today.
For more information, read the Wiki-how web page on How to Talk to Strangers.