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Friday, May 4, 2012

Talking To Strangers

When we were small, our mothers told us time and time again not to talk to strangers. It was good advice back then, but sadly, most of us have continued to heed this well intended counsel long past its best before date.

Now that childhood is behind us, the benefits of talking to strangers far  outweigh the risks. It is amazing how much we can learn from people we don’t know… and how enjoyable that experience can be for all parties involved.

In the vast majority of cases, all you need to do is smile and initiate the conversation with a few simple questions like “How are you?”; “Where are you from?”and/or “What do you do?”  

You’ll be amazed at how simply asking these questions of total strangers (and doing so often) will make you far more comfortable, confident and competent on those dreaded occasions when you are called on to make presentations at work, or speak out in social situations.

If, like most of us, you are a service provider and/or in sales, make it a regular practice in the workplace and I suspect you'll find your job will get much easier, not to mention more rewarding. After all, a little friendly conversation can only enhance the customer experience… and increases sales!

For these reasons and more, I have made ‘talking to strangers’ not only a personal habit, but also a regular and often mandatory assignment for all of my public speaking and customer experience workshops; and the feedback has been very positive indeed.  

So next time you’re queued up at the grocery store checkout, on an elevator, or riding the bus, put away your Blackberry, iPhone, or whatever little electronic device you are addicted to, and strike up a real conversation with a total stranger? You’ll likely find that face-to-face communications is the still the most powerful of the social media.

If we all just spent a little more time talking to strangers, especially those from different cultures, generations and belief systems, we’d all be a little happier... and maybe, just maybe, the world would be a better place.

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  1. Hi Jim, great piece, as usual and in today's gadget sodden world, very timely too.

    Guys with backgrounds like ours (ie as experienced trainers and public speakers) probably find it far easier to strike up a conversation with a total stranger and be 99% certain we were not perceived as either a conman or on a pick-up opportunity!

    It's a funny old world Jim, and all too easy to be misunderstood in that way, especially in more private cultures, such as in much of Asia, or where there are large Asian communities, such as in much of Canada.

    If you're covering these aspects too in your program, I sense participants would be getting great advice.

    ATB, Mike

  2. Jim-loved it. Am considering suggesting that the manager of our local Sainsbury's contacts you for advice. His mother has clearly ignored him for too long.


  3. Hi Mike - Great point about how this might be misunderstood in more private cultures. Interestingly, most Asians here seem to respond very well, but I get that they may not be responding as would Asians in other parts. I might just do a little more research on that. As always, thanks for the feedback and something more to think about.

  4. Ray,

    I think I may have shopped in that same Sainsbury's. Not sure if he actually had a mother.

  5. Jim - very good piece. It's funny how on a cruise ship you strike up conversations with strangers much more easily than you do at home. One of the joys of cruising is meeting people from all over the world and learning about where they live etc. After a few nights at dinner you usually know more about them than you do about many people back home.

  6. Jim,

    Maybe I should make cruising a mandatory assignment in my courses.

  7. This is excellent! My little “fireside” chat called, Increasing Your Circle of Influence points out this message and the pleasure of looking at people with a willingness to smile and engage them! You have written it in a succinct manner and I sent if off to 3 branches (around 60 people) this morning.

  8. I couldn't agree more! Well said, Jim.

  9. Great article! I benifit from talking with strangers:I feel much comfortable when I talk with interviewers or my boss. In addition, I found out that most of people are as nice as us. Very positive!


  10. Great article Jim! And right on as usual. By the way, I gave your book to a young woman I'm mentoring as I knew it would help her when applying for jobs in the Investments field. She loved the read, is using your tips and has found it so helpful in learning how to present herself.

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