Strangers. As children our parents dutifully teach us not to talk to them. It’s a lesson that tends to stick with us for the rest of our life. We dutifully stay with our established networks, in social settings we talk to people we know, and when we find ourselves in a social situation where we don’t know someone, we whip out our best friend – our mobile phone – and aimlessly thumb away our time.
This is why I was completely intrigued to attend Raise the Bar to hear from the author of ‘Do talk to strangers’, Kerrie Phipps. Kerrie is all about human interactions, and how the pressures of our fast-paced world and expectations of social media means we’re losing the ability to relate and connect with each other. I couldn’t agree more. How many online friends do we all have, however if we saw this person in real life we might not even say hello.
Kerrie believes that the simple art of talking to strangers is as simple as ASKING:
We must first be aware. Aware of ourselves and aware of those we’re talking to. We need to let go of the internal chatter going on inside our head when we’re talking with someone and give this person our full attention. Forget your own agenda, be it to hand out business cards, find out information, make the sale, and become aware of the person you’re interacting with and be present with them. And enjoy it.
- Start small
This really does mean small. It could simply be making quick eye contact with the person sitting next to the empty seat you’re about to claim, a smile, or a friendly hello. Starting small will break the ice and make the first connection with a stranger.
- Keep going
Once you’ve made the first connection, keep it going. Ask a question and don’t be afraid to bumble your way along, show curiosity, and realise that sometimes you need to give a little of yourself to get something back in return. Kerrie gave the example of visiting a town in WA and striking up a conversation with a local, she was met a frosty response to the ‘do you live around here’ question. Realising she’d said something the local didn’t like, Kerrie quickly followed with ‘I’m from outback NSW and I find this place charming.” The local visibly relaxed and an animated conversation followed.
- Interest in others
Listen to what the person is telling you, and listen properly. Listening is one of the most powerful things you can do to show someone you care. Close your mouth, open your ears, and show interest in what the person is telling you.
- Natural confidence
Everyone has natural confidence. Granted, your confidence might not be presenting to a room full of people but you have confidence. It might be chatting with a mate about your hobby or your child. Whatever it is, you have confidence. For me, I prefer one-on-one or small group interactions. I’m aware of this and do my best to seek out these kinds of interactions. Remember, comparing yourself to someone who you perceive to ooze confidence is of no use; you’re comparing their centre stage finesse to your backstage monologue.
Wrapping these steps neatly together is gratitude. Being thankful for the interactions. When we’re grateful, our attitude and perception changes. Be grateful that someone returned your smile, that you made a new friend, that the child laughing also brought a smile to your face. Be grateful that you had an interaction with a real human.
I’m convinced that Kerrie is onto something and am challenging myself to leave my phone in my bag, look up, make eye contact, and smile. I’m going to talk to strangers. And who can deny, there’s something really exciting about being rebellious against your parents – no matter what your age!
Rebecca Wilson manages Newcastle Airport's marketing and communication team.
She is a part-time TAFE Teacher, was awarded the Hunter Business Chamber's Young Achiever of the Year in 2011, and has served as the Chair of HMRI's PULSE Committee and as the Vice President of the Newcastle and Hunter Junior Chamber (now HYP).