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

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry
Updated February 28, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Interacting with strangers can feel uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing, and even downright scary. Our friends and families are usually the most familiar faces in our lives, and it can make sense to feel the most comfortable discussing our lives, hopes, and concerns with loved ones. While meeting new people can be nerve-wracking for many of us, conversations with strangers can offer some unexpected benefits. If social situations lead to nervousness or anxiety, working with a licensed therapist online or in person can provide you with the tools you may need to succeed socially.

Why do we avoid talking to strangers?

Interactions with strangers can naturally be far less predictable (and sometimes, more awkward) than conversations with friends and family. Some people believe that talking to strangers may be stilted and unpleasant. Others worry that strangers will not like them or be interested in talking to them, or that they simply don’t know how to start a conversation with a new person.  

Personal hang-ups and “stranger danger” aside, research suggests that our avoidance of strangers likely has more to do with ourselves than other people. Based on a meta-analysis of fears around strangers, people frequently doubt their conversational abilities, which may prevent them from engaging in potentially fruitful, life-giving conversations. Studies further suggest that interactions with strangers may rarely be as intimidating or negative as we anticipate. In fact, people often do enjoy and benefit from social connections with strangers, despite their initial fears.

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Social benefits of talking to strangers

Regarding concerns about meeting strangers safely, practicing caution and informing loved ones of your whereabouts can be crucial when you meet new people. When we engage thoughtfully, safely, and intentionally with new people, we may be more likely to develop meaningful relationships and become more involved in our communities. 

Make new friends

A conversation with a stranger can mark the beginning of a lifelong friendship. If you need motivation, you might reflect on how you met your current friends. More than likely, your friendships began with a simple conversation. 

Friendship can be vital to our lifelong well-being. Through imparted experiences with friends, you can reduce feelings of loneliness, provide support through difficult times, and promote each other’s mental, physical, and emotional health. 

Increase your sense of belonging

Talking with strangers can spark an immediate sense of connection. These exchanges, however brief, can remind us that we’re part of a community and a larger world. 

Research generally supports the power of belonging. In a 2014 study, for instance, participants who interacted with strangers while buying coffee reported a deeper sense of belonging and better mood than those who didn’t talk to strangers. Whenever you’re waiting for a meal or bus, or generally mingling in public, try to view the people around you as readily available sources of happiness. 

Experience mutual benefits

Talking to strangers isn’t just good for you; it can also benefit the stranger! This phenomenon can be supported by research. When a team of researchers instructed a group of people to engage in conversations with strangers on public transportation, they found that the pleasure of connection was “contagious”. The participants who were spoken to typically had equally positive experiences as those instructed to reach out to strangers. In moments when we’d normally choose solitude, the researchers recommended opting for a moment of connection instead.

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Psychological benefits of talking to strangers

Even when the interaction is over, engaging with strangers can enhance both psychological and physical health. Here are some of the most notable long-term benefits: 

  1. Boost confidence

When you practice talking with strangers, you may begin to feel more confident in a range of social situations. Ideally, your experience of positive conversations with strangers may begin to outweigh the initial fear of negative interactions. This confidence can influence other areas of your life and encourage you to attempt other challenges, like trying a new hobby or speaking up at work. 

  1. Gain and give knowledge

Talking with a stranger can be a simple way to expand your knowledge of the world and learn about other perspectives, identities, and cultures. Some researchers even claim that talking to strangers makes us smarter: in many cases, not talking to strangers can prevent us from living a more informed, creative life. 

Research indicates that we tend to consistently underestimate the potential to learn from strangers and acquaintances. By orienting ourselves to new people, we can make better decisions, think more creatively, and improve our well-being by approaching the world with a curious, open mindset. 

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How to talk to strangers

While talking with strangers may be a simple way to find a connection in our daily lives, it can be challenging to find the courage (and the right timing!) to connect with new people. If you’re wondering how to get started, here are some tips to unlock the power of connecting with strangers. 

Start small

There doesn’t have to be pressure to ask in-depth questions or maintain an extended conversation. In general, experts recommend worrying less about the questions themselves and simply seeing where the conversation goes. In a situation where you’d normally pop in earbuds or lose yourself in a book, you might offer a smile and greeting to a stranger – then, see what happens.

Practice active listening

While we’ve focused on the art of "talking" to strangers, a meaningful conversation is usually a matter of give and take. Try to focus on listening to the other person, which generally requires a balance of talking, pausing, and reflecting. 

Be curious

If it helps, you can keep a few questions in your back pocket, but don’t be afraid to let your curiosity lead the conversation. Respect your conversation partner’s answers as well as their ability to skip a question if they don’t feel comfortable answering. 

Find something you have in common

You might be in the same place or waiting at the same coffee shop, but try to dig a bit deeper and identify more meaningful similarities. The same hometown, a favorite TV show, or even travel aspirations can spark an exciting conversation.

Continue the connection

Many people appreciate the brevity and randomness of talking to strangers – and the reality that, in most cases, they’re under no obligation to speak again. 

But after some conversations, you may feel compelled to ask for a phone number, social media handle, or another form of contact to continue building the connection. Make sure that you both feel comfortable providing this information. If you’re unsure, it’s best to err on the side of caution and keep personal details to yourself. 

At professional networking events or other public “meet-ups” where meeting strangers can be a primary goal, you may feel more comfortable providing your contact information and pursuing these relationships. In general, try to trust your intuition, respect the other person, and prioritize safety.

How therapy can help

Every friend and therapist usually begins as a stranger. By getting to know a therapist and developing a trusting therapeutic relationship, you can develop strategies to meet new people, improve your existing relationships, and slowly expand your social circle.

For people with social anxiety, the thought of striking up conversations with strangers can be a major source of anxiety. Fortunately, online and in–person talk therapy can be effective treatment options for people with social anxiety and related disorders. 

Benefits of online therapy

If anxiety is keeping you from conversing with strangers and optimizing your social life, an online therapist can help. Online platforms typically allow you to talk to a licensed therapist about any immediate concerns from the comfort of your couch, bedroom, or another safe space. As your therapist gets to know you, they can offer personalized insights and communication strategies to help you connect with new people and strengthen your existing relationships. 

Effectiveness of online therapy

Research suggests that Internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) can be effective for people with social anxiety disorder. If you believe you’d benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional, please don’t hesitate to reach out for the help you deserve.

Takeaway

The simple decision to talk to a stranger can yield unexpected rewards. From increasing your confidence to making lifelong friendships, reaching out to new people can boost your mood and brighten another person’s day. If you’re working to improve your communication skills and fortify your social connections, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist for guidance. With their expertise and insight, you may learn how to approach prospective friends with a spirit of curiosity, compassion, and confidence.

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