“Don’t talk to strangers!” For many of us, it was the golden rule of childhood. We grew up warned of “stranger danger” to keep us safe, but now that we’re adults we have to relearn to be open to new experiences.
Kio Stark, the author of When Strangers Meet, is a big believer in talking to strangers. She will talk to a guy on the subway reading today’s news on his phone, a dog walker out for a moonlit stroll, or a lady with gorgeous shoes sharing her elevator. As she said in her Ted talk, “I know that not every stranger on the street has the best intentions. It is good to be friendly, and it’s good to learn when not to be, but none of that means we have to be afraid.”
In her Ted talk, she also elaborates why talking to strangers is beneficial. Here are six reasons we extracted:
Sense More and Judge Less
Human brains are wired to assign other people into categories, like “stranger.” When making decisions, we rely on these categories as a shortcut for learning about people; however, when you start really talking to “strangers,” you will start to see them as real individuals. Doing so can help others break out of their categorization habits too.
Walking through city streets people often feel lonely. Talking to strangers can alleviate that. Researchers have found that people often feel more comfortable being honest and open about their inner selves with strangers than they do with their friends and families. Opening up to strangers can make it easier for you to be truthful to yourself and others.
Be a Better Storyteller and Listener
Imagine you are at a party, and you can’t believe that your friend isn’t picking up your hint that you want to leave early. You expect friends and family to understand you, but you would have to start from scratch with a stranger. As you tell the whole story, you explain who the characters are; you spell out all the inside jokes and you become a patient storyteller. In turn, the stranger has to listen more actively to understand you. You both become better listeners, asking good questions and learning to understand each other.
Gain More Confidence
Stepping out to start a conversation with strangers is never easy, but if you do, you will be amazed at how much carry-over this has to other parts of your life. Talking to strangers can help you overcome fears and confidence issues you didn’t realize you had. In the end, you will find that approaching strangers or just turning your head and talking to someone sitting next you can be extremely liberating.
Talking to strangers is like reading short, living biographies. Whether it is a taxi driver or the person who sells your bagel, there is always a lot to learn from others’ life stories: their ups and downs, successes and failures. This allows you to draw off the experiences of others and make better choices in your own life.
Sometimes, when you are stuck while brainstorming, the best way out is talking to strangers. It can provide you with unexpected inspirations for old problems and generate new ideas. Talking to the woman in your elevator about her shoes might not solve every problem, but it could give you the idea you’re looking for!
If you think talking to strangers is still awkward, Ohello is here to help with the initial “hello!” We introduce you to new people online so you can meet offline. No more swiping and texting, no pressure, no expectations. Sometimes, it's just coffee and “oh, hello!” Start talking, so strangers will no longer be strangers.