One of the most basic rules that all parents try to drill into their children’s heads is “don’t talk to strangers.”
I’m sure that you did the same thing with your kids. I know I did. From the time that my boys were old enough to play outside, I used repetition, role-playing and threats to get them to follow this simple rule.
By the time we reach our 60s, we’re really good at staying away from strangers – too good actually! In fact, we have become so used to not trusting others that even a simple smile from a stranger makes us question his or her motivations and clutch our bag more tightly. “Yikes, what did that guy want? What a weirdo!”
The truth is that most people are not out to hurt you. If you’re in a public place, during the day, saying hi to someone is almost certainly not going to get you hurt. Once you start talking with someone, you’ll quickly get a feeling for whether they are creepy or not. But, you’ll never know until you try.
If you’re not used to talking to strangers, one non-threatening way to get started is to practice making eye contact. The next time you’re out and about, pay attention to how you look at others’ faces. Do you focus on their mouth, their nose, or eyes?
Practice making eye contact with at least a few people per day. At the start, you don’t even need to smile or start a conversation. Just get used to the fact that nothing bad happens when you form a connection, no matter how small, with another human being.
Once you have practiced maintaining eye contact for a couple of weeks, start adding a genuine smile. Just make eye contact, smile warmly and then go back to your business. Once again, the goal here is not to make new connections – that will come later. The goal is simply to give you the opportunity to see that nothing bad happens when you give others the benefit of the doubt.
Give yourself a few weeks to practice smiling at strangers. Then, get ready to start a few conversations. Now, at this point, you may be asking “Ok, this is all well and good, but, what do I talk about?”
Good question! The truth is that starting a conversation is much easier than people think. You don’t need to think of something “clever” to say. All you have to do is ask a genuine question.
Ask whether the book that someone is reading is interesting, especially if you recognize the author. Ask a stranger for their opinion on something that you’ve been pondering. Go into a boutique coffee shop and ask a stranger whether the coffee is good there (of course it is… it’s a boutique coffee shop that they chose!)
It doesn’t matter whether you decide to continue the conversation or not. Nine times out of ten, you will never see the person again anyway.
One thing is for certain. If you practice talking to strangers for long enough, you will find a few diamonds in the rough. I can’t tell you whether it will be on a train to Boston, or at your local coffee shop, or on the street. But, I can guarantee that learning how to talk to strangers again will change your life for the better.
Learning to talk to strangers is an essential skill to acquire after 60.
Do you agree or disagree that learning to talk to strangers again is an essential skill after 60? What one fear prevents you from talking to more strangers? Please join the conversation.