I think it’s in my blood. When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents during the summers (shout out to heaven…Love You Pop and Gam…). I remember going to the local mall with them, and my grandmother would always get into long conversations with people who would ultimately share very personal things with her. I can’t even count how many times after these individuals would walk away that I’d ask her, “How do you know them?” and she’d say, “I don’t, I just met them.” In later years in their retirement community, my grandmother was known as the unofficial welcome guide for the new residents. She never met a stranger.
My mother too. She taps into people. In stores and restaurants, my mom will guess the astrological sign (with 90% accuracy) of the cashiers and the servers. They will then be astonished that she got it right, want to know how she knew, and become her new best friend for the day…and for all returning visits. I remember getting some perks and hook ups at certain restaurants occasionally because of her!
So I guess I couldn’t lose…the hyper friendly extroversion is genetic. In college, I spent eight months working as a Telemarketer selling magazines. Now, I couldn’t tell you a whole lot about the specific value and benefits of these magazines. But, I made a lot of sales. I actually did really well. I would end up having lengthy conversations with people over the phone across the country, talking about their lives and future plans. At the end, they’d buy a bunch of magazines. And, I’d be happy because I made a sale and had the perk of an awesome conversation.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of how much joy I derive from talking to people I randomly encounter. When I count my blessings each day, these encounters with people are often a part of what I consider. These conversations make me happy, both in the moment and later on. But, these happenstances often go beyond their personal reward.
Just recently when I was doing a career workshop, a staff member at the library thanked me for a conversation we had many months back when I was there to do another presentation. She told me that in listening to her and giving her a little personal guidance on something that had been troubling her, it made a huge impact. She said she thinks about what I said every day and it helps her feel better. Moments like that make my eyes well up a bit (alright, yes, I’m a mush). I do workshops at lots of libraries, colleges, and other organizations, and I realize I could just go in, do my business, and be gone. But, I always talk to the people that work there, and like my mom and grandmother before me, make friends.
You never know what someone else might be going through. Maybe you are one of the only people that smiled, asked them how they were doing, and meant it enough to stick around and listen to the answer that day. Maybe we have more power to do good in another person’s life than we know, and maybe it would only take around 10 minutes of our time to do it.
I know plenty of other “stranger talkers” out there (if you are reading, you know who you are!) and they are often pretty upbeat, happy people. So, I was curious—is there something to this? And you know what? New research says there is.
A study by Epley & Schroeder (2014) demonstrates that connecting with strangers is correlated with a boost in happiness. They conducted nine separate experiments with bus and train commuters and found that those who engaged in conversation with a stranger during their commute had a more positive commuting experience than those who did not. Interestingly, they also found that this outcome was not expected by the commuters. In fact, the commuters often mistakenly assumed that their commuting experience would be more pleasant if they simply sat in solitude while riding. The researchers noted that since commuting is often cited by individuals as one of the least positive experiences, simply engaging in conversation with a fellow commuter may be a simple solution for a nicer ride.
Another study by Sandstrom & Dunn (2014) examined patrons’ interactions with a barista in Starbucks. They found that people who genuinely engaged with the barista through a brief conversation experienced a greater sense of belonging, increased positive emotions, decreased negative emotions, and more satisfaction with their Starbucks experience than those who avoided unnecessary conversation.
There it is, even research suggests that talking to strangers can be good for the soul. So, next time you are having a bad day, feeling like you just don’t want to deal with anyone, and simply want to go about your business without being bothered, consider the idea that maybe a little interaction with the person in the store line behind you might be just what you need. Don’t go jumping into any strangers’ cars or anything, just maybe a little safe chat…in public…where everyone can see you.
Epley, N. & Schroeder, J. (2014). Mistakenly seeking solitude. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 143(5), 1980-1999.
Sandstrom, G.M., & Dunn, E.W. (2014). Is efficiency overrated?: Minimal social interactions lead to belonging and positive affect. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(4), 436-441.