Digital MarketingGeneral

Talk to Strangers

By September 1, 2011 3 Comments

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?

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • I think a lot of people really get hung up about “networking” at chamber events, club meetings, and/or other social settings. Everyone has the stigma of trying to not be a slick used car salesman or the insurance agent handing out business cards at funerals when it really just comes down to having real conversations with people.

    I’ve added The Luck Factor to my reading list but a book by Keith Ferrazzi called Never Eat Alone is an excellent read on this subject as well.

    It lays out strategies for maintaining meaningful relationships with people and how to not be like one of people I mentioned above. Some of the key points are to give more to your group than you get, take notes, keep in contact, and be picky about who you refer to your colleagues.

    One thing I do is use the notes section in Outlook and Google contacts and sync with the notes section in LinkedIn contacts to keep track of things like birthdays, anniversaries, how many kids someone has and their names, if they are a Cardinals fan, and much more. This really helps when you know you are going to be meeting with someone you don’t see that often and it makes finding ways to stay in contact much easier.

  • Chris Young says:

    Brad, thanks for the comment. I completely agree with what you’re saying. While The Luck Factor doesn’t break any new ground, there’s a lot of the “power of positive thinking” in the approach. There’s nothing wrong with that, because positive thoughts will impact your actions. But I did particularly like the very specific, concrete advice to talk to strangers.

  • Chris,

    Excellent post.

    I still blame my Mom for my inablity to ‘work a room’ as well as I’d like. I still remember her warnings.

    1) Don’t talk to strangers
    2) Wait to be properly introduced (think Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind)
    3) Good things come to those who wait (waiting for folks to introduce themselves to you is an exercise in futility).
    4) Better safe than sorry (don’t risk rejection)
    5) He (she?) only wants one thing i.e. intentions can be misconstrued (especially for women;

    Thanks Mom; this is probably why I didn’t get to the prom either.

    I always try to remind myself (via self talk) that there is risk in any kind of change – even when it is change for the good.

    Again, good stuff Chris.

Leave a Reply