At the risk of sounding like I’m advocating that you become one of those unaware old folks who try to engage strangers – inappropriately, in extended conversations – I’m going to say this anyway: “DO talk to strangers.”

Yes, the time has come in your life to abandon the old safety rule we taught our children: “Don’t talk to strangers.”

At our age, now that we’ve learned a thing or two and entered into a time of wisdom and awareness, a more relaxed and indeed opposite rule is appropriate. Notice people. Speak to them. Don’t be afraid of strangers.

 
 

The Right Way to Start Conversations with Strangers

Starting a conversation with strangers is a fine art and one which you must refine and practice consciously.

You don’t want to interpret that friendly Trader Joe’s cashier’s remark, “Oh, you got the purple cauliflower! That’s so delicious!” as an invitation to launch into a lengthy story about your childhood loathing of the vegetable and how you rediscovered it in later years, or an involved description of your planned menu for dinner tonight.

You’ve got to be aware of where you are and what people around you are doing. When others are working, unless extended exchanges of information are an intended part of the transaction, you should keep it simple and businesslike.

Always remember to respect the time of the person across the counter from you and the people in line behind you. But what of other situations where, in the past, you might have kept to yourself for fear of seeming overly friendly?

When you’re at the movies by yourself, for example, waiting for the trailers to come on, and the person sitting next to you also is alone, why not strike up a simple conversation? Yes, there is a risk that the person you reach out to may recoil of fear that you’re going to want to yack throughout the movie.

But if you’re not that person, and you’re simply passing the time in a sociable way, well, let the person worry if she must. She will soon see that you’re not “that person.” And you may make a new friend.

Older Women Who Famously Talk to Strangers

Years ago, I wrote about 54-year-old blogger, speaker and songwriter Helen Hudson, who had recounted her impromptu exchange with an elderly man she passed, or almost passed, on her way into Starbucks one day.

The conversation was weird. And sweet. And interesting. And in the end, she was glad she’d had an exchange with him. She encouraged others to be open to engaging in conversation with older people. I’d like to add that the same is true with younger people, too.

The other day I was reminded about the value of being open to others when I read an article on the Women At Woodstock blog about 80-something-year-old Alice March, a writer and speaker who preaches the importance of paying attention.

Alice speaks to strangers all the time. One of those is author Steven L. Denlinger, whose memoir, How To Tie A Tie, is due to hit bookshelves soon.

Alice struck up a conversation with Steven in a bakery one day, and they became long-term friends. Steven writes about how they met, and what their friendship means to him, in this article.

How to Make Friends

Dale Carnegie wrote one of the bestselling books of all time, How to Win Friends and Influence People. In it he gives advice with the purpose of helping others make themselves known to many, and then influence, sell to, or otherwise do business with them.

Of course, here we’re concerned about developing friendly relationships, not selling anything. But the principles of connecting with others are the same, and I think they’re very useful for all of us.

So what are Mr. Carnegie’s time-proven methods for connecting with others in a meaningful and positive way? Here are his six basic principles, in a nutshell:

  • Become genuinely interested in other people.
  • Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
  • Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

So go forth and win some new friends this week. It will enrich your life.

Do you feel like you have enough good friends? How do you make new friends? Do you have a story of making a lasting friendship after speaking to a stranger? Please share your ways of connecting with others and join the conversation below.

Karen VenableKaren Venable is founder of Roommates4Boomers, a service for women over 50 that matches roommates using an algorithm similar to what dating sites use. Several years ago when Karen was going through a divorce, she realized how helpful it would be if there were a service that matched compatible over-50 women, so she launched Roommates4Boomers.

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