“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met” – William Butler Yeats
There is a thrill in striking up conversations with strangers; sharing secrets and being part of something new always excites. Not to mention that it makes the journey more interesting. Traveling is an adventure; it is about discovering new places, new cultures and new peoples. Sometimes we see someone we desperately want to say hello to but we are shy or afraid of getting mowed down. How do we overcome this inertia and have a pleasant conversation with someone we’ve never spoken to before?
To talk to a stranger, you need to be friendly. There are signals we give off when we want to be friends with someone. Start with a simple hello paired with a smile, offer to help them with their bags or baby and gauge their responses. A smile back indicates they are open, but if they don’t recognize your friendliness, maybe they just want to be left alone.
Most airlines and trains provide TV to watch, you may want to rest the earphones for a while as they are clear signs that you want to be left alone. Don’t pick up a magazine, try looking out the window and occasionally casting glances their way to gauge their own friendliness because you don’t want to stuff your conversation down someone who just wants to spend the trip sleeping.
If it is an international flight or a long metro ride, start by asking where they are going, this allows you to draw parallels especially if you are both heading the same place. There are other conversation starters like; commenting on a book in their possession, or passing a compliment. These start a conversation but you need to fuel it by asking secondary questions from their replies. If they are giving clipped responses, they may want to be left alone and you should turn your attention somewhere else. Remember you cannot force a conversation.
The dialogue will never grow if you are not really interested, you have to pay close attention to what is being said and ask questions that further the conversation. We all love to be listened to, and sometimes that’s all we need to be empathic and cause a torrent of emotion to be revealed. You could be of invaluable help to your co-passenger if you were willing to listen as she/he vented about relationship or work problems. Listening and asking questions signifies that you are interested and you never know what you may learn or who you may help.
Be Willing to Share
It’s difficult to open up because it makes us appear vulnerable when all we really want is to be invincible. But sharing with strangers can be a liberating experience as there are no strings attached and it is completely judgment-free. The most significant conversations we have centre around our deepest fears and issues. A willingness to talk can result in an unforgettable experience and what do you really have to lose? You may never see the person again and even if you do see them again, you may not recognize yourselves.
Strangers can provide the most valuable insight; they can have an amazing repertoire of stories or just be sounding boards to your dilemmas. We learn from people all the time, and exist in a community to be part of a whole, if you step out of your comfort zone, you will be amazed at the results.