What’s your SQ (Stranger Quotient)? When you pass someone in the street, walk into a mixer or enter into a crowded elevator do you speak? How likely are you to engage in conversation with the clerk behind the counter, the artist at the fair or the person standing next to you in line? Up until very recently my SQ has been embarrassing low (I know, hard to believe, right?). I’ve watched enviously as people around me effortlessly connect with strangers. How do they do it?
I’m not shy. In fact, most people would say that I am wildly outgoing. And, much of the time, that’s absolutely true. More often than I like to admit, however, I am not the bubbly, friendly, confident people-person that I seem to be. There are exceptions but, although I am almost always comfortable and gregarious in front of a large audience, the prospect of talking in small groups or with individuals I don’t know makes me a nervous wreck!
I’ve always envied people who can confidently strike up a conversation with a stranger. Whether it’s at a party, a trade show or standing in a line at the post office, there are those among us – maybe YOU – who eagerly engage in small talk with strangers. What a gift!
Although I haven’t yet figured out where my debilitating discomfort comes from, I do have my theories. It’s possible, I suppose, that it’s a direct result of the ‘stranger danger’ that we were all warned about as children. But, as a child of the 50’s and 60’s… it’s not likely. Back then it was considered courteous and kind to befriend someone new. My grandma was constantly bringing home a hungry stranger she met on the bus! And even today I know people who just seem to make new friends wherever they go. How do they do it? What’s stopping me?
Okay, I often say that ‘understanding’ is the boobie prize (unless, of course you use that understanding to change or create a new behavior that works for you). So, I decided to officially give up the ‘why’ and move directly into the HOW. How could I be the person who enjoys meeting and talking to someone new; someone who’s ‘brave’ and willing to start a conversation with a stranger… and feel really good about initiating it?
That’s actually the question I posed to myself as I started my month long adventure on the road – traversing across America. There was almost an obsession on my part to meet and greet, to interact and to connect with the proverbial strangers in my path.
Serendipitously, I was travelling with an expert in the realm of ‘talking to strangers’. My friend, Marita, is wildly gifted at engaging ‘newbies’ in conversation, so I decided to observe and copy! Here’s what I learned:
- Start with a smile! (It makes them and you feel more at ease.)
- Comment on something you have in common… might be the weather, the locale or the current situation.
- Be interested. (Ask a question and LISTEN to the answer.)
It was astounding to me that it could be that simple, but it truly was. And the result??? Nothing short of terrific. By connecting with the strangers around me I was ‘gifted’ with insights (most people really want to talk to you), information (about my surroundings and great restaurants) and (dare I say it) joyful opportunities (to meet foreign travellers and hold a Big Horned Owl on my arm) and that I would have otherwise missed.
Turns out that there’s great value for all parties when ‘stranger danger’ disintegrates. When’s the next party? The next trade show? The next mixer? The next social gathering? Bring it on… I am SO ready to engage!!