The Surprising Truth About Talking to Strangers

As a child you were probably warned about talking to strangers, but now you may want to break those rules. Studies show that small talk can make you smarter, healthier, and happier.

University of Michigan researchers discovered an increase in problem solving abilities after casual social conversations. They also found that those interactions may lower the risk for heart attacks. Another study found that commuters said their train ride was a lot more enjoyable when they engaged with other passengers, and those good feelings lasted for hours.

Maybe you still feel a little uncomfortable speaking up first, but the rewards are worth it. If you’re ready to brush up on your small talk, try these tips.

Benefits of Small Talk

1. Extend your network. Casual conversations can lead to job opportunities and business connections. You may meet a future client at the airport or deli.

2. Make friends. Close friendships and romances have to start somewhere too. Sharing an observation or extending a compliment may help you find companionship and love.

3. Develop new ideas. There’s a natural tendency to surround ourselves with others who come from similar backgrounds and share our views. Reaching out beyond your comfort zone introduces you to fresh perspectives and greater knowledge.

4. Increase your mindfulness. Is it difficult to focus on the present moment because you’re overwhelmed by your to-do list? Talking with anyone face to face calls your attention to what’s happening now.

Tips for Breaking the Ice

1. Assess the situation. Of course, some occasions are better suited for small talk than others. Someone who’s concentrating on their golf swing isn’t likely to laugh at your jokes. On the other hand, strangers who are making eye contact while stuck in a long boring line make excellent prospects.

2. Find common ground. Start off small. Browse online for something interesting to talk about. The weather and upbeat news stories are usually safe topics.

3. Look approachable. If you still feel awkward making the first move, you can encourage others to seek you out. Put a smile on your face. Carry an art magazine or a science journal. When you’re in a hotel lounge or coffee shop, choose a seat that faces out into the crowd.

Tips for Sustaining a Conversation

1. Listen attentively. Show others that you’re interested in what they have to say. Focus on their message instead of rehearsing your response.

2. Tell stories. Prepare amusing anecdotes for answering the usual questions about what you do or where you’re from. Details create hooks that make it easier to keep the conversation going.

3. Ask questions. Pertinent questions also keep a discussion flowing. Make your inquiries open-ended so the responses require more than yes or no.

4. Go deeper. What’s more satisfying than small talk? Research shows that we like small talk, but we tend to feel even better after a heart-to-heart chat. While you want to be sensible about how much personal information you disclose, you may also want to risk opening up a little.

5. Express your appreciation. It’s easy to like others when they seem to like us. Let someone know if you think they’re funny or insightful.

6. Follow up. Now that you’re on a roll, find a way to stay in touch if you’re hitting it off. Introduce yourself and hand out your business card if appropriate. Look forward to meeting again if you frequent the same running track or schedule a coffee date if you want to be more proactive.

Running with scissors is still kind of risky, but talking with strangers is good for your health and career. Reach out, and see what a difference a little small talk can make in your daily routine.