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.
Listen to our podcast on embracing small talk: