I’ll admit it – I talk to strangers. I’m not sure when this began, but it has connected me with some pretty awesome people over the years. Several years ago, while waiting in line at the post office I met Barbara Winter, someone who’s been an online entrepreneur since the 90s. She’s also the author of Making a Living Without a Job: Winning Ways for Creating Work That You Love. When we met for lunch a few weeks later she gave me a copy of her book. In the front she wrote “I’m so glad you talk to strangers.”
So last week in the canned foods aisle at my local grocery store I started a conversation before anyone was directly in front of me. As people came closer from both directions I asked a question that most anyone could answer…
“Is it cream of mushroom soup that goes into a green bean casserole?”
Soon there were several of us all talking and laughing and interacting at once, including two men, a woman, and two of the cutest little kids I’ve ever seen (except for those in my own family, of course). So why do I speak to
strangers and have conversations in the canned foods (or even the frozen foods or the produce) aisles?
This is why…It helps me with my public speaking, my storytelling, creating compelling headlines, and more. Yes, my business improves when I interact with new people on a regular basis. And I strongly encourage you to do the same thing.
Creating opportunities to be spontaneous, to come face to face with absolute strangers and share stories is invaluable to anyone who is a creative in any area of their life. I’ve had people tell me things that they are most likely not sharing with those they know because they are so personal. And I have shared stories that my friends and family and even my colleagues and students have heard so many times they could tell the stories themselves. The value in talking to strangers is in the moment, knowing you have but a few minutes at most before you head in opposite directions forever.
In my encounters with strangers over the years I’ve laughed, cried, hugged, nodded, listened, empathized, and shared almost every emotion possible. It’s a form of “on the spot therapy” in which each person must make that split second decision to play or not. Many choose to avoid eye contact and keep moving past you at an accelerated pace, but even those people have been known to slow down, turn around, and acknowledge me before disappearing out of my life.
My most recent experience was in the grocery store on the night before Thanksgiving. An older man was pushing the cart with two little girls aboard. As the girls and I began talking he had a twinkle in his eyes but didn’t say a word. The girls shared with me that their grandmother was at home preparing the holiday dinner and they were on a mission to pick up the items the grandfather had forgotten earlier. In turn, I told them that I am the worst when it comes to forgetting something at the store and shared that I just wanted to get out of the house after a long day of cooking and decided to see who might be at the grocery store. At that very moment I realized I had forgotten to get fresh cranberries earlier and told them this story in as dramatic a fashion as possible. We giggled and made silly faces at one another and then said goodbye, and I have to believe Grandpa was fascinated at this encounter. One of my takeaways was the headline I used when this group was further down the aisle and on approach. It was:
“Who Else Needs One More Thing Before Their Thanksgiving Dinner Is Complete?”
Recently, I read an article from Joe Keohane, author of The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World. In it he shares some ideas that are relevant to all of us…
A couple of years ago, I started to talk to strangers.
That’s not to say I hadn’t talked to strangers before that, because I had. I’m the son and brother of highly social small-business owners, and I’m a journalist, so talking to strangers has been both a way of life and a livelihood for me. And yet, a few years ago I noticed I wasn’t doing it much anymore — if at all. Between balancing a demanding job and a really demanding small child, I was often tired, distracted, and overscheduled. The prospect of striking up conversations with random strangers in coffee shops, or bars, or on the bus started to feel daunting. Eventually, I just stopped doing it.
This was a coping strategy, of course. I was overwhelmed, so something had to go. And talking to strangers can, as it turns out, be taxing. Psychologists have found that just making small talk with a stranger can be cognitively demanding, tiring, and even stressful. That makes sense. You don’t know the person, you don’t know where the conversation is going, so you must pay closer attention than you would if you were talking to someone you know well. But psychologists have found that talking to a stranger actually boosts your mental performance — for that same reason: It’s a workout. I was saving myself a bit of effort, but I also noticed that my life was becoming less interesting, less surprising, maybe even a little lonely.
Talk to strangers. You’ll be glad you did. Life is sweeter and much more fulfilling when we leap out of our comfort zone on a regular basis, do you agree?
I’m bestselling author, marketing strategist, and entrepreneur Connie Ragen Green and I would love to connect further with you to help you to achieve your goals. If you are interested in learning how to optimize the syndication of your content, please take a look at my popular Syndication Optimization training course and consider coming aboard to increase your visibility, credibility, and profitability.