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Shatter the Limits: Talk to Strangers

By: Brian Kim - September 18, 2006

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Some of the articles I will be writing in the future are part of a series called: Shatter the Limits. They are meant to question some of the limiting beliefs that were instilled within us that govern our present and future lives.

When we were kids, what did mom used to tell us when we walked out the door to school?

“Don’t talk to strangers.”

And for good reason too as there are some really sick people out there.

But now I’m assuming that if you’re a reader of this blog that you’re all grown up. Do you still heed mother’s advice? Is it still beneficial? Can that advice actually be limiting us in our post childhood era of life?

Well, let’s look at the results of still having this belief ingrained within. The majority of people who still have this belief live in isolation, especially if you look at the urban parts of the country. If you walk down the street on any given day, you’ll see most people will avoid any contact whatsoever with strangers. They’ll look at the ground to avoid eye contact, they’ll fiddle with their cell phone or ipod to create a barrier, and you can almost sense an invisible shield around them raise to full power as you approach them coupled with a panicked look in their eye as they wonder if you’re going to talk to them.

It’s true, the typical American lives in isolation. Work, home, sleep, repeat, with an occasional outing on the weekend. They cling to their friends and family and never seem to want to venture out of their safe bubble. The years fly by. Everyone, from the guy behind the counter at Starbucks to the airline pilot to the judge at Superior Court are really living their lives in loops. The truth is that most of these people are sick and tired of living the same dance and routine, talking to the same people, and having the same conversations, so shatter the limits and start talking to strangers.

Now obviously, please exercise caution here. If you are walking in gang ridden streets at 2 AM in the morning and you see a group of men with guns walking toward you, need I say more?

Now I know what must be going in the mind of readers now and that is: Why should I?

Why should I talk to strangers? Won’t people think I’m weird if I do? Most people just want to be left alone don’t they? And I know for sure that for many people, the very idea of going up to a complete stranger and striking up a conversation strikes fear and terror in the heart.

Let me make one point very clear though before I continue. I am NOT saying you MUST talk to strangers. If you’re comfortable with your life and don’t want to venture outside your bubble, then that is certainly your prerogative.

On the other hand, can talking to strangers help? Absolutely. At a very minimum, you are improving your social skills, removing a limiting belief, and gaining confidence, three things that will take you very far in life.

I think one of the reasons that prevents people from talking to strangers is they think strangers will view them as strange or creepy if they do. On the contrary, as long as you don’t give the impression you’re out to harm them, most people will welcome your advance. People are sick and tired of living the same lives over and over and when someone comes to interrupt the routine, they will open up. Most people are starved when it comes to interesting and spontaneous conversation.

Start by talking to some of the strangers in your daily routine. The person who gives you your morning coffee at Starbucks. Your next door neighbor. Your mailman. The intern at the office. Your barber. It’ll be easier to strike a conversation with them as you’re a familiar face.

Now, when you go up and talk to them, just have it be light, pleasant conversation. No talk about politics. Just some pleasant conversation. Nothing heavy. Think of the conversation as a gentle feather. After all, you barely know the person.

Remember though, you have to disarm people when engaging them in conversation because most people are conditioned not to talk to strangers. Smiling is the best way to disarm people because it effectively says, “Hey, I’m harmless”.

Smile and start with the standard “Hi. What's your name? How are you” and proceed to comment on the situation. Try to put yourselves in the other person’s shoes and comment on that. For example, if there’s a morning rush at Starbucks, you might say to the cashier “Mornings are always the busiest aren’t they?” I guarantee you’ll see their face light up a little after you say that. How often does someone come around and acknowledge your situation? Commenting is an easy way to lead into a conversation. Then, when you come back, you can build off the previous conversation or open up another topic, and you’ll become more than just another face in the crowd.

Talking to strangers expands your comfort zone. You’ll realize that there are things that you can do that you previously thought you couldn’t.

If you can develop the skill to talk to strangers and become comfortable at it, you’ll be joining the ranks of a very small group of people. Think about it. You go to a party or gathering and what do you see? Most people clinging to their friends like lifesavers, sipping the drink in their hand, and looking around, wishing someone would approach them. You’ll probably be one of the few people moving from social circle to social circle with ease.

If you’re ever awkward at going to a party where you don’t know anyone, opening up strangers is the best way to practice. If you open up strangers everyday, then when you attend a party where you don’t know anybody, no sweat. You’ve done it a hundred times before.

Talking to strangers can open up whole new doors. It’s a great asset when it comes to networking. I remember there was a study that was shown on yahoo on how people who drink socially were more likely to have higher income, due to the many opportunities that present themselves to people who socialize as opposed to those who don’t. You could infer the same holds true here. By talking with strangers, you open up a whole new world of possibilities for yourself.

You never know if the next stranger you talk to can change your life like you’ve never dreamed possible. The number of possibilities we face on a daily basis are so vast, it’s unfathomable, yet we shut them all down by living the same life. Throw a butterfly effect in there, get your hands dirty, talk to strangers and see where life takes you. Shatter the limits and start to see the boundless opportunities and possibilities that are appearing right before your very eyes.

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