Talk to Strangers (It's Good for Your Health)

Do you avoid talking to strangers? The Public Speaker explains why connecting with strangers can make you happier andmore successful. Plus, tips on how to easily connect.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #281

I grew up watching my mom talk to strangers. In shopping lines she'd make friends with the people in front and behind. By the time we left, she was exchanging phone numbers. She talked to cashiers, she talked to bank tellers, she talked to just about everybody. ;

The same scene would unfold each time.  She’d ask them something, something small.  “Oh, that’s a great sweater…Hey, I’ve got a coupon for that cereal you're buying, would you like it? “ I’d watch them respond. They were usually hesitant at first.  Then as my mother gently advanced the conversation, they would inevitably warm up. Soon they were sharing stories and laughing. It was very rare that other person didn’t want to engage.  

It must have rubbed off because now that I'm the mom. I talk to strangers quite often too (much to the chagrin of my husband and kids). In fact, just today I complimented a grocery store worker on her engagement ring. We talked briefly about her upcoming wedding plans.  

I stumbled on some recent research about how connecting with others increases happiness. The study, titled Mistakenly Seeking Solitude, set out to discover which is more beneficial: connecting or staying disconnected in a group. In the opening of the study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, this sentence caught my attention:

"Connecting with others increases happiness, but strangers in close proximity routinely ignore each other.”

The researchers asked train commuters if they thought solitude or talking to strangers would be more pleasurable. Then they asked commuters to either talk to someone or keep to themselves during their ride. After the commute, riders were surveyed for the results.

Talking to Strangers Is Good for Your Health

Fact: Most participants preferred interacting with others.

Although most participants predicted solitude would be a more positive experience than interacting with strangers, they were wrong.  They actually preferred interacting with others!

Fact: Both parties benefit from making a connection.

The research showed that when two strangers talk to each other, both reap the benefits. So why do we typically choose isolation over making a connection?

Fact: We think others won’t want to talk to us.

The study suggested that we assume others want to be left alone. We don’t want to be rude. We don’t want to break social norms. We don’t want to be rejected.

Although this study is showing up in journals and making the rounds on Twitter, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever board a New York City subway and find the riders inside talking and laughing with each other.

But I sincerely hope that the next time you have a chance to talk to a stranger in a public setting, you’ll try it. Talking to strangers can be good for your health!

Here's how to do it.....


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.