We’re told from a young age not to talk to strangers. While that’s excellent advice in many circumstances, it’s not a perfect rule – especially if you’re in sales.
My father left Afghanistan 30 years ago to avoid the Taliban War. When he arrived in Canada, he knew no one. He has been working the same job ever since he got here, a hard-working taxi driver. My favorite part of my relationship with my dad is his amazing stories that he has with strangers in his backseat. For a man who left his family and friends to start a new life, it never surprised me that he had no trouble interacting with strangers in his car.
Hearing those stories as a child made me excited to talk to new people. As I grew up, I started to see that these moments were merely beautiful interruptions in the familiar narrative of our daily lives. Often, we shy away from interacting with people we do not know because we don’t know their intentions. However, there is so much potential if we take the opportunity.
Think back to the first time you met any of your best friends. At some point those individuals were nothing more than strangers, so why is there this idea that we should avoid communicating with people we don’t know? I wouldn’t have many friends if that were a perfect rule.
We’re All Human
When I saw Peter Herbert, CMO of Terminus, at the Conex conference standing alone, I had no idea who he was. It wasn’t until we shook hands that I realized with whom I had just introduced myself. We could’ve spent the evening discussing work, but instead, we connected on something much more meaningful—life. We didn’t book a meeting or pitch ideas; we simply shared time together.
It’s easier to connect with people when you don’t talk about work. People let their guards down, they don’t have to be “on,” and that’s when relationships can develop. Allow yourself the time where you are truly yourself. You have no intention but to share your perspective on life and how you understand it, and in return, they could do the same.
Unfortunately, the default position for most of us while standing alone in a crowded room is to take out our phone. We all do it to avoid feeling awkward. But what would happen if we fought that feeling and kept our phones tucked away? I get it, there are emails to read and apps to check, but nothing on your phone will give you the experience that you get from connecting with another human. Even a few quick interactions can be beneficial!
People tend to put their best face forward when they meet a stranger, so it’s also a helpful exercise to help you get out of a slump or get over a bad day. Remember that most people welcome friendly conversation. Your phone will be waiting for you after the conversation (I promise).
Sometimes we talk to people to pass the time. Other times we chase moments. What do I mean by “chasing moments?” I mean, seizing opportunities. One of the best moments I ever chased was with Dave Preston, the head coach of the McMaster University men’s volleyball team. McMaster was the university of my dreams. I was still in high school and my Friday and Saturday nights were sometimes spent working or watching the McMaster men’s volleyball team’s games.
One night, I decided to talk to the coach after a match. I told him who I was, and expressed how I truly believed I would play for him one day. The interaction lasted no more than a minute, but in the not so distant future, I found myself in his office with him offering me a spot on the team. I’m not sure that would’ve happened had I not taken the chance, had I not chased the moment.
The lesson here is to try. The worst thing that can happen from interacting with a stranger is 20 seconds of awkwardness. That’s it, and it’s incredibly brief. But you stepped out of your comfort zone and took a second to acknowledge the fact that another person exists. You stopped yourself from visiting your digital life and took a moment to learn more about them without asking for anything in return.
The next time you feel fear or anxiety about doing this, think back to the moment you met some of your closest friends, and hopefully, that will inspire you to take the leap and connect with a stranger.
My dad can choose to stay quiet and merely drive people around, but he has found joy in learning about the different journeys that people are on. He has found a way to fill his life with special moments by simply listening and engaging with strangers who call a cab. It’s not possible to get to know everyone, and if it were, that would be exhausting. But it’s possible to know you shared a real moment and made a difference in another person’s day.