Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Do(n't) Talk to Strangers

It’s been drilled into us since childhood: “Don’t talk to strangers.” But now that we’re grown, is the fear of stranger danger keeping potentially-valuable relationships at bay and preventing us from making some meaningful connections? Don’t get me wrong, there’s undoubtably evil in this world and bad consequences do exists; but is the boogie man, or as the Spanish call him, El Cuco, really lurking behind every stranger’s eyes?

I once struck up a conversation in an airport with an attractive stranger. Ill-advised? As it turned out, that innocent dialogue led to a dating relationship and, as the degrees of separation often go, led me to reconnect with a girlfriend of mine who I knew in the third grade in Puerto Rico! That connection then led me to another classmate who now lives in Barcelona. On a recent trip, I met up with her and her husband and ended up touring the city with them for hours. What a memorable moment.

Then there’s the woman I met over the shampoo bowl at the salon. It just so happened that 60 years ago she went to school with a certain “Nido” boy. She shared the sotyr of how enamored she was with him and stories of the two of them together. To my disbelief, that young boy was my father and she was his childhood sweetheart! What a random moment.

Those are just some of the special people I’ve added to my life because I gathered my courage, took the first step and said “hello” to a stranger. There’s no telling what can happen when you welcome the unknown into your life. It could open the door to a valuable business connection or new, innovative ideas in the workplace. It could mean an exciting personal relationship or new horizons you’ve yet to explore.

I guess it’s not all that surprising that there are many strangers-turned-friends in my life. According to my mom I never met a stranger. “Every time you went to a party, your sister would come crying because you had already made friends with everyone.” But what about those whose personalities don’t naturally gravitate towards the unknown? Talking to strangers can be daunting, but it’s also a skill that can be learned with practice.

I like to make it an exercise. Start with a person of the same gender or someone with a common connection. Initiate the conversation, find out all you can about the other person and keep the talk flowing. Then, move on to more intimidating situations: that attractive man at the bar, the head of the company you really want to impress or that striking woman next to you in carpool. Like the first person on the dance floor, sometimes others are just waiting for someone to make the first move. Just take two deep breathes to lower your racing heart, and as you breathe in the second time around, smile from your heart and start with a simple “hello.” You never know what could happen next.

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