One of the easiest ways to improve your networking ability and invigorate your social life is to develop the skill of talking to strangers.
We’re trained as children to fear strangers (which is good for safety reasons) but most people carry this fear into adulthood where it does more harm than good. It becomes a constraint on the number of people you can meet and interact with. You get stuck in a box, only open to creating new relationships through people you already know.
If you already know a lot of people, this can work all right, but it limits you to meeting people who are generally like you. If you are new to an area and don’t have many friends, the fear of talking to strangers is absolutely crippling.
Fortunately, developing the skill of talking to strangers is easy. Once you get started the immense benefits and excitement it brings will encourage you to keep going.
It comes down to three things:
- Understanding the benefits of talking to strangers.
- Knowing how to deal with the occasional rejection or unpleasant encounter.
- Breaking down your fear through practice.
Everyone is a Learning Experience
To get an idea of the benefits of talking to strangers, you need to change your mentality. As tribal creatures, we’re naturally inclined to fear, nay hate, people we don’t know. We instinctually perceive them as dangerous outsiders, seeking to pillage our village and make off with our women and children!
In modern society this simply isn’t true. Most people are friendly and perfectly open to conversing with you. It just takes a little effort to cross the stranger barrier. Each person is an incredible learning opportunity. What they tell you about themselves. How they live and interact with the world. There is a wealth information waiting to be tapped.
Strangers also tell you a tremendous amount about yourself by the way they react to you. As you gain experience and learn to read body language, these reactions are essential to developing your social skills. Of course, there are also the priceless relationships you’ll have the chance to form:
- Business contacts – Who you know (and what they think of you) is often more important than what’s on your resume.
- Mentors and teachers
- Romantic relationships
I think the last point is extremely important. We all dream of meeting our ideal mate, but when we see someone we’re extremely attracted to, we’re usually too intimidated to approach them. How can you expect to find love with that mentality?
Dealing with Rudeness and Rejection
Now that you’re sold on the benefits of talking to strangers, the only other skill you’ll need is the ability to let rejection roll off your back. The key to this is not taking it personally.
At least 95% of the time when a person reacts negatively to you it has absolutely nothing to do with you personally. Most likely they’re having a bad day or you caught them at the wrong moment. Maybe they’ve been harassed by people before and assume you have bad intentions. Or maybe they’re just not that cool and you wouldn’t gain much from knowing them anyways.
Instead of reliving the incident in your mind and dwelling on your insecurities, imagine reasons for their behavior that don’t depend on you. In the 5% of cases where you actually caused the negative reaction, treat it as a learning experience. The problem isn’t you, it’s your behavior, so examine what you could have done better. Did you come off pushy? Could your personal appearance be better? Thinking about these things will go a long way towards improving yourself.
How to Get Started
That hardest part of talking to strangers is getting started. Before you have experience striking up conversations it can make you nervous and awkward, but the more you do it the smoother and more likeable you’ll become.
Start Small – If you’re a naturally reserved person, you’ll probably want to warm up a bit. Start with making eye contact with people you might like to talk to, smiling at them, or saying Hi out of the blue. Think of possible conversation starters you could say.
Comment on Something – If you see something remarkable, make a comment. Even if it’s not at anyone directly, chances are people will hear and react to you. If you see someone doing or wearing something interesting, tell them what you think. Keep it positive and most likely they will be happy to chat.
Make a Joke – If a decent joke pops into your head, just come out and say it. If someone laughs, that’s the perfect conversation starter. This is great for opening dialogue with attractive people of the opposite sex.
That’s really all there is to it. Good luck and don’t get discouraged. You have nothing to lose but your shyness!
Update: Due to reader request, I’ve written a post with some more practical tips on appearing friendly and approachable.
Confidence is the key to EVERYTHING. Ever wondered exactly how self confident you actually are?
Image by Sukanto Debnath