In the bustling streets of London and busy cities, we often find ourselves head down, headphones in, and eyes fixed on our screens. We’re on a mission to get from A to B and don’t want anything (or anyone) to get in your way. Even awkward eye contact can fill some of us with horror.
Yet talking to strangers on a walk in the countryside, or on a long train journey feels a little easier. You have a shared experience, routine or destination and it feels more natural to smile and start conversation as our paths cross. Whether it’s a smile, a good morning or someone complimenting your outfit - it feels good to have even the lightest encounter. So why don’t we do it more?
Casual connections with strangers can boost our happiness and sense of belonging
Why don’t we talk to strangers?
As kids, we were told not to talk to strangers through increasing anxieties around crime, but the studies show overriding blocker of talking to people we don’t know is the fear of the unpredictability of the conversation.
The unpredictability of a conversation with someone we don’t know can make us feel uneasy and uncomfortable. Some people may feel talking to strangers may be stilted and unpleasant. Or we simply don’t know how to start a conversation with a new person.
Negative Expectation vs Positive Reality
Studies have shown that the thought of engaging with a stranger is much worse that the reality: the expectation of the encounter negative, but the actual experience is positive. As well as with light small talk, one study have found being open and deep with someone they don’t know can be surprisingly comfortable. The participants were surprised by how enjoyable – and unawkward – it is.
Plus many people report feeling a sense of accomplishment and increased confidence after breaking the ice. And those who were initially uncomfortable with the idea end up finding these interactions surprisingly enjoyable and enriching.
We love watching videos of people stopping people in the street and asking them questions - we’re curious and inquisitive. We learn about people from different backgrounds and with different viewpoints. When you speak to strangers, you’re not only boosting your confidence, you are also boosting your brain power. By interacting with people outside your normal circles, you can gain knowledge and broaden your perspective.
We share knowledge and experiences
Conversations can improve not only knowledge transfer but also knowledge creation. Through spontaneous conversations with people outside our normal bubble, it can spark creative thinking and different perspectives.
Boosts creative thinking and cognitive function
Talking to strangers can stimulate our brain in ways that familiar interactions don't, providing a cognitive boost. A study from the University of British Columbia found that even brief encounters with strangers can increase our mental performance and sharpen our thinking.
One study randomly paired strangers for a 10-minute conversation and compared how much each participant expected to learn before the conversation with how much they reported learning after the conversation. Though the content varied, participants consistently learned more than they expected from these conversations.
Listen to “Where are you going?” - a unique podcast where Catherine Carr has funny, surprising, heartbreaking and romantic conversations with strangers.
7 surprising benefits of talking to strangers
Engaging with strangers is not just a personal benefit; it's a societal one. It's an effective antidote to prejudice and echo chambers. When we talk to people who see the world differently, we broaden our perspectives.
Engaging in conversations with strangers can significantly boost one's mood and create a sense of happiness.
Increases Sense of Belonging
These interactions contribute to a stronger sense of community and social cohesion.
Improves Cognitive Function
Talking to strangers stimulates the brain differently than familiar interactions, enhancing mental performance and thinking skills.
Initiating conversations with strangers can increase self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment
Could make someone else’s day
Regular interactions with strangers can combat feelings of isolation and chronic loneliness
Facilitates Unexpected Connections
Conversing with strangers can lead to unexpected friendships, opportunities, and meaningful exchanges.
Encourages Deep Conversations
Studies suggest that deeper conversations with strangers are surprisingly enjoyable and less awkward than anticipated.
So, how can you reap the benefits of talking to strangers in your everyday life? It could be as simple as a greeting in an elevator, a comment about the weather while waiting in line, or asking for a book recommendation on the train. These small interactions can lead to insightful conversations and, perhaps, even lasting friendships. Plus, it might just make someone’s day.
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