In Joe Keohane’s book The Power of Strangers, he makes a compelling argument for talking to strangers. All 306 pages are worth reading, but the essence of the book is summed up in its title. Keohane writes:
“Talking to strangers makes us happier, healthier, and a little smarter, and helps us feel like we belong in a world that can be chaotic and alienating. Listening to strangers can have a powerful effect on us, and on them, alleviating loneliness, enhancing belonging, and paving the way for understanding. Talking to strangers is far easier than we think, other people are more receptive to it than we might expect, and that when we talk to them, we are often pleasantly surprised.”
I’m the quintessential introvert, so I usually avoid talking to strangers. It’s not that I’m nervous about it or lack the skills to do so, I just enjoy thinking my own thoughts and reading the thoughts of people I respect. But having read Keohane’s book, I’m going to change. I’m going to proactively talk to strangers. I can learn something from every person. I can help mitigate feelings of loneliness—something we all struggle with. I’m going to ask open-ended questions that prompt deeper conversations.
It’s wise to teach our children—stranger danger—but as adults, we can loosen our approach and be more engaging. This week, start a conversation with a stranger. Then respond to this post and tell us what happened.
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16 Replies to “Talk to strangers”
Two thoughts Don
We need to ask ourselves what talking to strangers does for us, not just to them.
Second, we need to make it about them, not about us. When we make it about them, we validate them. When we ignore them, we discount them. People who never met a stranger know how to validate!
Thanks, David, for your thoughts. As you say, there should be a reciprocity in our conversations; it’s not all about me and it’s not all about the person I’m talking to; there’s benefit to both individuals. Take care, Don.
I grew up in a family of extroverts. and inherited that same characteristic. I could relate many conversations with complete strangers, through many years, that have deeply impacted my life. One recent example was in the frozen food section at the grocery store. I smiled at a gentlemen as I passed him. He was not like me, nor would most consider that we had anything in common. I really don’t remember exactly what I said, but he responded with something that led me to think he was a believer. So I said “Yes, this is the day the Lord has made, and I’m glad I get to rejoice in it” So for the next few moments we had a mini worship service right there. I was so encouraged and I believe that he was too. Thank you for reminding us to encounter those we come in contact with.
Jimmy, it’s nice to hear from you. Thanks for sharing the story about your encounter in the grocery store. I’ve discovered that even a short 3-4 minute conversation can be rewarding. Thanks for our friendship through the years. Don
Just yesterday, I talked to a stranger. And like you said, it made me feel good! And I learned something (about replacing windows of all things!) But it was a very pleasant way to spend time, waiting at the Texas DPS office to renew my driver’s license. It was a good use of my time, instead of wasting it reading texts on my phone. I will try to do that more often.
Thanks, June, for telling the story. Life itself is interesting so hearing people talk about their day to day experiences can be rewarding. Take care, Don
As a fellow introvert, I am not typically the first to engage a stranger … even if I’m “hopelessly lost”. However, often when I have engaged or, more often, been engaged by a stranger the connections are most interesting and even helpful.. My wife and I were recently at a restaurant while traveling in another country. A couple sat at the table next to us. Tables were very close together and it quickly became clear that we were both traveling Americans. Fortunately, they took the initiative to start a conversation. It was great. We learned she was a Doctor in the Midwest and he played a lot of golf. We also learned some things about their kids and their life experiences. As we spoke about traveling, we mentioned we had a vacation planned with our kids and grandkids in the Fall. Amazingly, they had just had a family vacation with all their family at the same location in Acadia National Forest. Before the conversation was over, She asked for my email and sent me a very detailed agenda of their trip … sites they visited, trails they hiked, restaurants they enjoyed, etc. What an tremendous benefit this connection with “strangers” was to us. It may not always be such a direct benefit, but the experience challenges me to get out of my ‘introvert zone’. Maybe next time, I’ll be the one whose experiences can help others.
Randall, thanks for telling this story. Most of my conversations with strangers turn out well and are beneficial. Even when we engage with someone who vastly different than us, we can learn from their life and perspectives. Thanks for our friendship. Don
Thanks Don. Good advice. It reminds me of the passage… “Show yourself to be friendly.”
Thanks, Brent. That’s a great verse.
many are concerned about ‘stranger conversation’; Why Fear.
I say We are So Secure , We Are Insecure!
I learn a lot from Others Don!, Even Music Guys! LO:L
This very topic has been on my mind for several weeks! We moved to a large city during covid and it has been difficult to get to know people. In the small town we came from, I found it easier to speak to strangers but here folks seem suspicious when spoken to. I was beginning to feel like an old crazy woman. But I now feel a renewed enthusiasm for reaching out. Thank you for sharing.
Cindy, thanks for sharing. Years ago I had heard that New Yorkers are unfriendly and hard to relate to. But, when in the city, I started to smile and initiate conversation, and found that people would open up and reciprocate. I hope you find friends and peace in your large city. Don
Several days ago I happened to be in a blacksmith’s shop, as he was demonstrating his skills to visitors. No one else was there at the time, so I began a conversation. He was very knowledgeable about the history of his trade and very conversant on American history, even facts that I had not known before. It was very impressive and encouraging to see and hear how this man uses his very unique talents to educate anyone in his midst as he hand-builds beautiful high-quality tools and instruments, while standing next to a 2000 degree forge and large anvil. He is a rare breed indeed! Everyone has a story!
Bill, thanks for sharing. Like you, I enjoy having conversations with people that initially, we may think won’t contribute much to the conversation, but I’m usually surprised. I can learn something from everyone. Don