30 Days to a Better Man Day 17: Talk to 3 Strangers

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 16, 2009 · 23 comments

in 30 Days to a Better Man

Ever since many of us were little kids, we were told to never talk to strangers. While this was done out of a concern for our safety, many men have carried this mantra over into adulthood. In the United States, we’ve even mythologized the idea of the strong, silent man that keeps to himself. The reality, though, is that history’s greatest men were some of it’s most social. They were comfortable with anyone, in any situation, and  understood the importance of reaching out to others and expanding their circle of influence.

We are more and more isolated these days. We live in a neighborhood for decades and never get to know our neighbors. We sit in a pew at church for years and still know absolutely nothing about the people sitting in front of us. We don’t know the guys at work who are in a different department than we are, even though they’re just a few floors up.

This lack of social trust is not only bad for our communities, it’s bad for ourselves as well. So today we’re going to throw off our inner Jeffrey Dahmer and start up a conversation with people we don’t know….yet.

Why Talk to Strangers

Make new friends. We’ve previously discussed the importance of male friendships. Men who have more friends tend to be happier and live longer than men who don’t have any good buddies. Many men, myself included, find making new friends to be a difficult task. But there are potential man friends all around us if we would just get out of our comfort zone and start talking to some strangers. The dude who comes into the gym at the same time as you everyday? Potential workout partner. The guy who has an office down the hall from you? A golf buddy. All it takes to make a potentially lasting connection is for us to open our mouth.

Meet a potential mate. A man’s fear of talking to strangers can potentially prevent him from finding the love of his life. If you’ve been lamenting the fact that you can’t find any good women, then you’re not looking hard enough. Look around you. The woman in the produce aisle squeezing cantaloupes could be your future wife. That girl sitting next to you in Economics 101 could be your soulmate.

There’s women everywhere. You just need to go out there and meet them. No need to use creepy pickup lines or wear a boa around your neck like that Mystery guy. Just be friendly and approachable, and you’re bound to meet someone with whom you’ll feel some sparks. I’m living proof of this benefit of talking to strangers. Because I was able to man up and strike up a conversation with a stranger, I met my wonderful and beautiful wife Kate.

Expand your business network.
You can’t network like a man if the only people you ever talk to are your mom and your cat, Mr. Peepers. While the prospect of talking to someone you don’t know from Adam might seem daunting, getting over this fear can be the difference between staying in a dead end 9-5er or landing your dream job. If you can get in the habit of talking to strangers on a daily basis, you’ll be surprised where you might meet someone who can help you advance your career.

Increase your social skills. If you wish to go far in life, you need to hone your social skills. This doesn’t mean you have to be the man that works the room like an insurance salesman. You’ll probably just annoy people if you do that. But let’s face it, most success in life, whether it’s in business or love, depends on our ability to interact with other people. Just like any other skill, our ability to interact with others improves the more we practice. Talking with strangers on a daily basis, provides you ample opportunity to fine tune and hone your social skills.

Learn new things. Talking strangers forces you to interact with people that aren’t like you. Consequently, your views on the world will broaden.

Boost your confidence. There’s something about talking with strangers that boosts my confidence. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush of doing something that makes me a bit uncomfortable. I don’t know. All I do know is that I usually feel good when I reach out to others and just start talking. If you’re looking for a way to increase your manly confidence, start talking to strangers on a daily basis.

How to Talk to Strangers

Let go of your pride. You might think that the number one barrier to talking to strangers is nervousness, but it’s actually pride.  We’re nervous because we don’t want our egos bruised from being rejected, so we don’t even attempt to reach out. But here’s the deal. That fear is completely unfounded. About 97% of the time when I’ve struck up a conversation with a stranger, the response is positive. Humans are social animals and are actually quite open to conversation. Even if you do get rejected, big deal. You didn’t know the person before and  now you still don’t know them. Nothing has changed.

Another way pride gets in the way of talking to strangers is that it’s common for us to look down on someone as not worth talking to. Admit it, we’ve all done this at one time or another. But I’ve found that when I let go of my pride and talk to people that I would have otherwise written off, I’m always surprised by the fascinating stories they have to tell.

Dress for success. If you find yourself shuffling along in life and staring at your shoes instead of looking at other people, it’s probably because you lack self-confidence in your appearance. If you’re dressing like a slob, you’re not going to want to talk to people because you don’t want anyone to give you a closer inspection. But when you practice good grooming and dress nicely, you’ll feel great about yourself. You’ll have more self-confidence, and you won’t be afraid to look people in the eye.

Also, dressing nicely makes people more comfortable with talking to you. People get nervous when sketchy looking men try to start conversations with them. Dressing nicely makes you more approachable.

Smile and say “hi!” You’d be surprised how a smile and a “hello” can break the ice with people. Instead of keeping your eyes glued to the ground as you’re walking, make it a habit to smile and say hi to people as you pass them. You might not start a conversation with that person, but it’s a good baby step towards having full flung conversations with strangers. If you need another reason to get into this habit, smiling and saying “hi” is probably the only pick up line that consistently works with women.

Break the ice by finding something you have in common at the moment. At a wedding? Ask the person how they know the bride and groom. At a school function? Ask about the person’s kid and share something about yours. Standing in line at the coffee shop? Ask a person what they suggest ordering. The conversation may only last for a minute, but there’s always a chance you’re striking up a conversation with a new mentor or girlfriend.

Talk to people at businesses you frequent.
Talking to a business’s employees is one of the easiest ways to begin a conversation with someone because you already sort of have a relationship with them. They make your coffee, bring you your food, or cash your checks. Instead of keeping your communications strictly business, show some genuine interest in these folks and ask them questions like, “How’s business today?” or “How’s your day today?” or “How long have you been working here?” Introduce yourself and ask them their name. There you go. You’ve just made a new connection with someone you interact with on a regular basis.

People at work generally welcome a friendly chat (the exception being if they’re really busy and there other people waiting; don’t hold up the line or keep a waitress from her tables). Their day is monotonous and half the time they have to help some nimrod who’s talking on his cell phone and treating them like a automated robot. A friendly conversation can be a bright spot in their day. As an added benefit, if you chat with them regularly, you may end up getting better service. It’s only human nature. People tend to treat people they know and like better than people they don’t know.

Ask questions. Probably the easiest way to get people to start yammering is to ask questions about them. Most people love to talk about themselves. But be careful how you employ this. It’s probably not a good idea to ask a woman you just met where she lives and what time she comes home. You’ll just freak her out.

Be authentic. When talking with strangers, be your best self.  There’s no need to come up with some canned lines that you say to people you don’t know. When you’re comfortable with yourself, people recognize that and will instantly become comfortable with you.

Today’s task is to talk to three strangers. And people online don’t count. Strike up a conversation and return and report the community.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Marc D. June 16, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Now I have something to try at work tomorrow.

2 Andrew June 16, 2009 at 7:23 pm

I’ve been trolling this blog for a few months now and I think this is one of the best articles I’ve read so far…Thanks!

3 Brian June 16, 2009 at 8:34 pm

I use something a friend of mine created called “Transaction/Interaction”. The little catch phrase and purpose of this is to: “transform everyday social transactions into friendly, personalized interactions”.

Things like,

[Situation: buying movie tickets]

Employee: “What movie would you like to see today?”
Me: “Well, that depends. I want to see _______, but I’m concerned. Is it a chick flick? Because I don’t want to burst out in tears – I cried during the last one, it was embarrassing.” [obviously add a bit of sarcasm and playful tone of voice so the employee knows you're kidding.]

[Situation: buying a sandwich]

Employee: “What kind of sandwich can I make for you today?”
Me: “Well, that depends. Do you make the best sandwich here? Because if you don’t, we have a problem.” [obviously add a bit of sarcasm and playful tone of voice so the employee knows you're kidding.]

Both of the above examples can be used to flirt with the (cute) (female) employee.

4 snooch June 16, 2009 at 9:28 pm

I was just thinking about 5 minutes ago that I’ve always admired the social aspect of cigarette smokers. At times I’ve been tempted to go and light up a cigarette just to hang out with those people because they’re isolated from all the bullshit of our world and just seem to shoot the shit with complete strangers.

Awesome

5 Dan June 17, 2009 at 6:20 am

Yup….speaking to strangers has gotten me my girlfriend and various jobs before. Right on Brett,

6 Josh June 17, 2009 at 6:34 am

@snooch

This is true.. It’s one thing I miss since I quit smoking. You always have that one thing in common and, in my experience at least, you feel a bit out of the loop from the non smokers, bringing you together. You also sometimes get the sharing of resources to bring you together. Out of cigarettes? Have one of mine. Need a light? Got one right here.

It is the most effortless social situation I have ever been in.

7 Andy June 17, 2009 at 7:10 am

I think you can be the strong, silent type and still be good at talking to strangers.

I like this article. I think it relates to one of your recent articles about keeping a journal. Personally, I have had many interesting encounters with people I just randomly strike up a conversation with and eventually get to know. Even if you don’t end up friends, meeting someone new provides something great to write about in your journal. There are a lot of people out there with a lot of stories to tell.

8 Kevin June 18, 2009 at 3:01 pm

I really liked this article. It has a lot of good, positive points. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no excuse to be an “introvert” and talking to others is the best way to fix this situation. I’ve found that most people are friendly, and _especially_ the ones that you would normally write off

9 Charles June 21, 2009 at 5:16 am

3 Strangers? Ha! How about 50 strangers?

I was on a flight to Shanghai, China with my family for our 2 weeks of vacation and seeing all the relatives (obviouisily my wife is chinese). Anyway, another family had a sick daughter with them. When we landed in Shanghai, the health authorities boarded the plane to check everyones temperature – and sure enough, she was sick with a flu. They quaratined the back 6 rows of the plane (note to self: NEVER sit in the back of the plane again, that’s where all the bad things happen). So, for the last week, me and 50+ people from that flight have been stuck in a hotel in Shanghai waiting for someone else to get sick. As you can imagine, there’s very little to watch on TV (only 1 channel in english), so there is quite a bit of socialzing out in the halls.

And as fustrating as it’s been to lose a week of vacation, i can say we’ve made several friends, including several new friends for the kids to play with. Some local to us, some father away. It looks like I even picked up a decent business contact from someone. So, there’s always value in talking to people – you’ll never know what you’ll find out.

10 James June 25, 2009 at 11:09 am

I must say out of all the tasks so far this one might be the hardest one of them all.
In my experience people do NOT want to talk to you. Social creatures? Maybe when among their friends but most people seemed downright annoyed when you dare to disturb their day with trying to converse with them.

I’ve nodded at people in my apartment complex and said hello and all I get back is a hostile glare. Trying to be friendly to a store clerk by commenting on the day? They’ll look at you blankly as if the effort to drag their minds from their daily routines to respond, even if it is with just a nod and “yeah it is warm today.” seem to be beyond their abilities and they resent you for trying to make them do so.

It is my belief that is just why Facebook, Twitter and the rest of them have become so popular. Because when it comes down to it, people don’t mind reading what others think, but they sure don’t want to have to talk to them to find out.

11 Matt June 29, 2009 at 4:55 am

Fantastic. This speaks directly to one of the books featured in your Essential Man’s library: Dale Carnegie’s classic “How To Win Friends and Influence People”

Reading that book and/or taking the Dale Carnegie course (which is still offered, after nearly 100 years) have greatly improved the lives of many people.

12 cupcake July 2, 2009 at 6:20 am

Fore some reason the majority of people tend to be on defense. too many times when I smile and say hi (especially sales clerks) they sometimes look offended as if im there enemy ….really strange! As much as I love people Its really difficult to connect in small ways much less bigger ways like meeting new friends. I admire people who socialize with ease. As for me, my friends are my co-workers and family until I figure out what im doing wrong out there. Sometimes I feel like its no use but I know in my heart I will never give up and now that ive found this article I feel like I have some guidence …really cool. thanks! I will start a conversation with 3 people tomorrow. What have I got to
lose:)

people is able to meet others easily, As for me my friends are my co-workers and family

to connect

13 cupcake July 2, 2009 at 6:25 am

Fore some reason the majority of people tend to be on defense. too many times when I smile and say hi (especially sales clerks) they sometimes look offended as if im there enemy ….really strange! As much as I love people Its really difficult to connect in small ways much less bigger ways like meeting new friends. I admire people who socialize with ease. As for me, my friends are my co-workers and family until I figure out what im doing wrong out there. Sometimes, I feel like its no use but I know in my heart I will never give up and now that ive found this article I feel like I have some guidence …really cool. thanks! I will start a conversation with 3 people tomorrow. What have I got
to lose:)

14 Chris Thompson July 23, 2009 at 3:04 pm

I would suggest volunteering as a great way to make friendships. There are tons of groups (I like the Jaycees http://www.usjaycees.org/) and you’d be able to find a group that shares your desires. Having that shared connection of volunteering makes talking to strangers much less daunting.

15 Sundance July 26, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Good article, great site!

I believe that modern media has dramatized the ‘crazies’ for ratings and coupled with the ongoing “orange” terror threat level people think that a polite stranger has a psychopath agenda.

The cure? Smile and say “hi” to strangers. Let people know that you see them and you accept them. (grain of salt here – don’t get too friendly with Johnny Gangbanger when you’ve got the wife or kids in tow.)

And when you’re in a conversation and don’t know what to say – follow the advice above and ask a question. People love to talk about themselves. Look at me, commenting on a post as a stranger to strangers about what I think. And I wasn’t even asked! = )

16 Eli August 19, 2009 at 1:23 pm

When I was growing up, my father used to talk to everyone. He would talk to the cashiers, the people at the Service station (gas station), the banks, my schools (principla, secretary), etc. He would not jsut say idle banter, but would strike up long conversations. Now, eh wasn’t flirting, he was discussing “things”, but I never really understood it until I got older. Now that I do the same thing, I can move to the front of lines, get things done faster, if I forget my wallet it isn’t a big deal as the “know” me, etc. It also helps to go back the same places all the time, but I’m memorable sicne I talk to people. I also get to know things and make contacts. If you are a business professional, always talk to strangers, but also keep with you some business cards (and a “contact card” on your phone/pda/whaterver so you can send it to them) on you at all times. You never know when you can hand one over and make a great deal. On that note, always prep your 30-second elevator speech so you can answer that time-old question “What do you do, buddy?”…

Great post, as always. Thanks again.

17 Brett August 20, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Thanks for sharing your insights, Eli. Your dad sounds like quite the man.

18 Shoku July 5, 2010 at 1:35 pm

I can’t seem to succeed with this. I lock up terribly and if I can keep myself from stuttering too heavily to be understood the long delays I need to form a coherent thought really don’t lend to positive responses.

I’m not so socially inept that I can’t talk. Even with this trouble around people I don’t know, I can prepare ahead of time and do a passable job of starting talking to someone but I still get anyone to really start talking. I’ve really only had people go as far as they could to give me one word replies to any questions I ask them.

From the look of things I’m horribly difficult to approach and doing as much myself doesn’t put people at ease. Of course, I’ve looked around quite a bit for advice on how to do this so I’ve seen over and over the generic advice like smiling and other body language and the actual advice for topics that are so unlike anything I would say that I won’t ever be able to form them on the spot (without some additional explanation of how,) but altogether it has just been a long string of years where I don’t improve and worse I can’t see why.

19 Francisco August 9, 2010 at 9:31 pm

@Shoku
Your problem is in your first sentence: you think that you can’t succeed, so you don’t. You need to change your thinking or self image or both. And chill, bro. Your brain wants to help you, so let it. Read a book called “Psycho-Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz.

20 Joseph M August 28, 2013 at 7:45 pm

This is great stuff! A reminder to talk to some of my neighbors. It’s easy to get into a rut.
That said, I attribute quite a bit of my success to the little paper route I had as a kid. I had only about 6-10 customers on this rural route and instead of throwing them out I would go to the door. A few of the folks wanted me to put the paper in the door but most wanted to chat for a minute. I think this is where I learned to be compassionate, as I heard a lot of sad stories. But mostly it was relationship building and I will always be grateful for that route even though the pay was almost nothing.

21 Curtis September 12, 2013 at 5:31 am

I’ve struggled with this to a debilitating degree since I left school in 2007.
College was a horrendous ordeal, and although I have recovered somewhat from that trauma, I still have a hard time integrating socially.

You’re quite right that a lot of it is down to pride, as I find myself not talking to strangers for fear of rejection; and in some cases, people I already know! Instead, I hover around the people I feel semi/comfortable with and survey the area for whoever may be judging me from afar (like anyone takes time out of their own lives to do that for long). This is something that is evident in the way I walk, the way I talk and probably in my everyday body language. This is something that is to be overcome, not accepted, and AoM is a superb guide for young men striving whole-heartedly to become the man they want to be; the man they can be. Here goes nothing…

22 Tom April 12, 2014 at 7:27 pm

One point to remember when talking to people at businesses you frequent. While I’m definitely an advocate of being friendly and developing a relationship with the workers, don’t forget that they are a captive audience. Be friendly and ask how they are doing, but understand that a 5-minute conversation with a Starbucks employee isn’t going to fly when there’s a dozen people in line behind you. Know your surroundings; there’s a time and a place to get to know people.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter