No matter where we are or what we do, we need to interact with people we don’t know yet. My practice of doing this is natural for me being an extrovert but also because it’s my work. I frequently meet with and have conversations with people I’ve never met or spoken with before. I listen and learn from people like me who thrive on these encounters and I’m often asked to give courage to people who are not comfortable with these exchanges. When you engage with people that you don’t know yet, remember these things:

Everyone shows up for a reason

This experience plays itself out for me all the time. People who we aren’t expecting to attend meetings or participate in focus groups show up. They don’t fit the profile of who we thought we wanted to speak with, but there they are. There is something about them or the circumstances of how they got there that encourages us to include them. Sometimes they are the stars of the meetings, sometimes not, but always memorable with valuable perspective.

We are meant to know each other 

This is one of my favorites and most powerful because it’s easy – just believing this is enough to start a conversation. It isn’t necessary to know why we are meant to know each other – that will reveal itself in the course of conversation. It could be because it is mutually beneficial, or perhaps we are meant to help someone through something. or them us. The balance is not important. And what we learn from each other isn’t important either. It’s possible we don’t know immediately why we had the encounter- that’s ok too. What’s important is engaging with someone we’re meant to know.

We know each other from a previous life  

In Tibetan philosophy, we are all reincarnated, so any stranger we meet may have been someone important to us in a previous life. The Dalai Lama says, “Sometimes they have been parents to us, sometimes friends or mates, sometimes enemies.  Without exception, each of them has been even a mother to us again and again, performing the kindnesses of a mother.  How can we be indifferent to them?” Whether we believe in reincarnation or not, that perspective of being connected can shift our approach to interacting with others – from seeing them as strangers to people we already know from somewhere.

We have everything we need for every encounter

We have something to offer others. Sharing our humanness through stories and experiences is how we connect with people. It can be our interest in history, knowing similar people, sharing the pain of a sick child or recently deceased parent, or recommending a book or Netflix series – whatever it is, we are all enough and have everything we need for every encounter.

We are going to change their lives in some way

Our interaction can change a moment, someone’s day, and potentially change their life. Simply sharing a small gesture or kindness is enough to have an impact. Sometimes the smallest gesture speaks the loudest. “And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.” – Libba Bray

They are going to change our life, too

Every person we connect with, however temporarily, imparts something of value to us. Life puts the right people next to us.

Forget your mother’s advice – talk to strangers. “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A.A. Milne.