Talk to Strangers

Forget everything your parents taught you.

OK, that’s a bit extreme, but it may be time to part with one bit of parental advice.  “Don’t talk to strangers” was no doubt sound advice when we were kids, and it still is for today’s youth.  But as business people, the psychological remnants of that advice can hold us back… so much so that I want to offer you some new advice:  Talk to strangers. In fact, talk to them as often as possible.

You see, talking to strangers opens doors to new ideas.  Though it’s great to spend time with people who think like you, talking with people who have backgrounds, expertise, and perspectives that differ from your own can only help you grow.

Talking to strangers also opens doors to new opportunities.  Some people always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Though you might call them “lucky”, perhaps their luck isn’t entirely by chance.  These lucky people often have built a wide-spanning web of social connections.

In fact, in the book The Luck Factor, Dr. Richard Wiseman writes that you can identify traits that are common to people who others see as being lucky.  The first trait?  You guess it:  they talk to strangers.  They build true, meaningful relationships with a wide range of people.  It follows that the more people you get to know, the more likely you will be to also be in the right place at the right time.

I’ve recently made a conscious effort to leave behind my parent’s decades-old advice of not talking to strangers.  At work, church, the local Rotary Club, and even at restaurants, I’ve found that it can’t hurt to extend your hand, make an introduction, and begin to learn about someone new.

Nowhere is it easier for me to talk to strangers and build upon existing relationships than via social media.  Between my five active social network accounts:  Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter (where I maintain a digital marketing-related account as well as a personal interest account) and Google+, I’m connected to over 1,800 people.  Though we all share one or more common interests, the vast majority of these connections are with people I would not otherwise see or hear from in the course of a day.  If you’re uncomfortable with building these types of relationships, it may be that the old advice you received as a child (“don’t talk to strangers”) is holding you back.

Whether or not these connections are online-only, this group of friends and acquaintances represents new ideas, a sounding board for my own ideas, and just possibly new and yet-unforeseen opportunities.  And I’m just as happy and willing to present opportunities to others as I would be to have them fall into my lap (call me lucky!) due to one of these strangers that has become a connection.

You may want to wait until your parents aren’t looking, but it’s time to get out there and talk to strangers! What do you think?