While on a walk in my neighborhood, I saw three people I hadn’t seen before and realized how much I miss chance encounters and talking to strangers. I decided not to miss the opportunity to connect with someone new. Talking to strangers is a great way to make new friends, learn something new, or simply make someone smile. Talking to strangers can be intimidating for some people. Here’s how to do it.
Be present. Pay attention to where you are and who and what’s around you. See where you are– and enjoy your surroundings. Put your phone away. Look around and see who’s walking towards you, around you, or who you are about to catch up to. As I walked towards my building, a driver was waiting by the side door. Walking into the building, a woman walked towards me with a small suitcase. Another person I had noticed earlier was walking into an office building. Paying attention gives us the clue as to how to start the conversation, and how long it should last. Brief is better.
Take a chance. Not everyone likes chance encounters, until they experience them. We are better for the experience. We learn, we share, we uplift, and we are uplifted. Occasionally we share puzzle pieces. The Holy Intimacy of Strangers, by Sarah York is one of my favorite books. In her book, York talks about how often we exchange puzzle pieces with strangers we meet – we have some of theirs, they have some of ours. A business idea. A book they’d enjoy. A person they should meet. Sometimes the puzzle piece comes after the conversation. Chance encounters are fun, easy, a change of pace. An encounter with a stranger can make your day.
Start with hello. I start with “Hi” and wait to see what happens. Most times people will slow down, look you in the eye, and respond. If they don’t stop, or even speed up, don’t take it personally, and don’t stop being interested in having encounters with strangers. Not everyone is in a receptive space at the moment – but that doesn’t mean they won’t be next time.
Be brief. These are chance encounters. They usually last only a minute or two. Ending conversations gracefully is a skill itself. A young man walked from his car to an office building, clearly on his way to work. After he smiled and said hello, I asked if people were returning to work. Just the essential workers like him. We had a short conversation about his job and how his commute – the half hour in the car alone – is the highlight of his day. Sometimes it’s easier to tell a stranger how we feel.
Even before the pandemic forced most of us into an unwanted isolation, people craved connection. Now, we crave it a little more. Say the first hello and meet a fellow stranger.