How Talking With Strangers Can Boost Your Sense Of Well-being

Updated January 21, 2019
Medically Reviewed By: Nicole J. Johnson

Talking with strangers, for many, can be quite uncomfortable and even anxiety producing. For some, it is the potential threat that talking to a stranger poses, or the vulnerability one feels sharing information about themselves to someone that they feel may be judging them, or just discomfort with the unfamiliarity that holding a conversation with a new person brings. If we can overcome our anxieties about talking to strangers, however, we may find that the benefits are richer than we imagined.

Why we don't like talking to strangers

It's not crazy to feel some discomfort about the idea of talking to a stranger. After all, these interactions are more unpredictable than conversations with friends and family. Stranger danger aside, we may also be concerned when talking to a stranger that there may be a disconnect in values and that disagreement may ensue. Sometimes even the fear of a simple miscommunication can be enough to keep us from engaging with people outside of our circle of friends and family.

Most of these anxieties, however, don't have a strong basis. The majority of situations involving conversations and interactions with strangers are not nearly as intimidating or negative as anticipated. When it comes to serious fears about our safety, the majority of violent crimes are not committed by strangers, but by acquaintances, family, and friends. Far from being a true threat, in fact, talking to strangers can produce a significant rise in your sense of well-being and knowledge base.


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Social benefits of talking to strangers

Friendship

A simple talk with a stranger can represent the beginning of a friendship. Think about it, how did you meet your current friends? You were strangers first, then you talked, and now you are important to one another's life. Friendships are vital to our well-being through life. They stave off loneliness, provide support through difficult times, and contribute to our mental, physical, and emotional health. In addition, the building of friendships and other relationships can increase your positive mood as it stimulates you mentally, and can help initiate new activities with others.

Social connection

Talking with strangers can also spark a sense of connection. It allows you to feel a part of your community and broader society. Connecting with others helps us feel like we belong. This sense of belonging is one of the vital variables in our general happiness. It means that someone cares about us and, and that we care about someone outside of ourselves.

When many of us think about being part of our community and society, we think of the close connections that we already have with family and friends. But research into the community indicates that it is interacting with acquaintances and strangers that leaves us with a feeling of being plugged into our broader world. Think about a situation where you can board a bus and strike up a conversation with anyone on board. That certainly shows more of a sense of community then conversing only with those who are close to us already.

Mutual benefit

Another good reason to talk to strangers is that the conversations are good for them. When a team of researchers told a group of people to engage in conversations with strangers on public transportation, they were surprised to find that it didn't matter who started the conversation. The benefits of conversing with strangers extended to both people.


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Personal benefits of talking to strangers

Not all of the boosts to your well-being from talking with strangers are social. Conversing with people that you don't know can also benefit your personally.

Confidence

When you practice talking with strangers, you gain an increase in confidence as positive interactions begin to outweigh anxiety and negative interactions. This confidence can spread to other areas of your life, giving you the courage to take on more challenges similar to that of talking with strangers, like trying a new hobby or speaking up at work. It uses the same level of confidence to drum up a conversation with a stranger.

Productivity

Sometimes, talking with strangers can even increase your productivity in other areas. This may be connected to the emotional and mental benefits of making connections. Perhaps a happy brain is a productive brain? Whatever the case, if you find yourself stuck on a work project, or feeling down in the daily grind, try striking up a casual conversation with a stranger. You may find yourself in a better place to get things done.

Knowledge

Talking with a stranger can also be great a way to expand your knowledge about the world, and get and give objective feedback. Both you and the stranger are (hopefully) entering the conversations without preconceived ideas about one another. You have an opportunity to present information and receive information in a non-biased way. Assume that everyone has something to teach you, and look for that thing in your conversations. Cultivate a curious mind, and you might benefit in all areas of life.

In addition to broadening your knowledge base, talking with strangers can be a great way to get some feedback on your social skills and conversation topics. This benefits requires some alertness to body language, and sometimes a thick skin. If strangers routinely seem to lose interest in conversation when you bring up your favorite topic, it might be time to think about retiring that subject.


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How to talk to strangers

You might be convinced by now of the benefit of talking to strangers, but wondering - how do I do it? Here are some tips to improve your communication skills with strangers - or anyone, for that matter.

  1. Start small. You don't have to go in depth with an extended conversation on your first try. Instead, see what happens if you smile and say "hi" in a situation where you would usually pop in some earbuds or lose yourself in a book. If you get a smile and a greeting in return, you've made progress!
  2. Use small talk questions. If the person that you just said hello to immediately moves on to another activity, that's fine. But if they seem open to continuing the conversation, use whatever basic small talk move springs to mind - the weather, the current number one movie, or an exciting new headline. You probably want to avoid politics and any local news that might be controversial.
  3. Ask the questions. We've been discussing you "talking" to strangers, but in reality, a successful conversation involves at least as much listening as talking. Keep a few questions in your back pocket, and let your conversation partner answer to whatever extent they feel comfortable.

Bonus tip: if the person to whom you are speaking gives a lot of short answers, and doesn't ask any questions in return, this might be a sign that they aren't in the mood for chatting. This isn't anything personal, and you can just let them go with a smile.

  1. Listen carefully to them. One of the worst things that you can do is let anxiety about what you're going to say next take over. Anxiety has a way of clouding your head and shorting your creativity. If you stay calm and listen, you will likely hear something that catches your attention. This is a great place to ask a follow-up question.
  2. Answer their questions. If you and a stranger get a good conversation going, they will likely have questions for you as well. Don't overthink these - answer honestly, but mostly lightly. There can be a fine line between authentic conversation and oversharing, and it can take practice to find it. If you find yourself leaping across the line, or, conversely, being too tight-lipped, don't be too hard on yourself. Just keep working on it.
  3. Practice your finish. Conversations with strangers are situational. Some of them have a natural end, like the short chat while standing in line for coffee. At other times, though, you may need to gracefully bring the conversation to a close, like when you've been talking to your seatmate on an airplane. It can be handy to have your phone, a book, or some other distraction close by so that you can simply tell your conversation partner that you have other business to attend to.
  4. Bonus tip: carry it forward. Most of the time, talking with strangers is about the moment. Sometimes, however, you might find by the end of a conversation that you would love to continue the acquaintance. In that case, it doesn't hurt to ask for a phone number or social media handle. You can even be prepared with a business card, to take the pressure off of them. You might not be successful in every scenario, but it can be worth taking the risk when you feel a real connection.

When it feels like too much

Talking to strangers can have many positive benefits in your life, and is a skill that is fairly easy for most of us to learn. Some of us, though, might find that our stomach churns, and we break out in a cold sweat at the thought of talking to people that we don't know.

If you find that your anxiety about conversing with strangers is preventing you from living the kind of life that you would like to lead, you might benefit from talking to a professional therapist or counselor. They can help you get to the root of your anxiety about talking to new people so that you can take advantage of these benefits of talking to strangers.

At BetterHelp, a platform which allows you to talk with a licensed therapist about any of your most immediate concerns, it is true you will talk with a "stranger" at first. However, as your sessions continue, you will develop a deeper connection with your therapist.

This type of therapist to client new relationship will able to assist you through your challenges and serve as someone who is learning about you and helping you along the way.

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