Talk to Strangers: An Unlikely Secret to Increased Happiness

We’ve been taught our whole lives to beware of strangers. It’s reasonable advice for a child, but as an adult, and particularly as a professional, we need to talk to strangers regularly. 

Strangers become customers, partners and friends, and all sorts of people we do business with.

The Research will Surprise You

If you thought the reason we don’t talk to strangers is because we’re scared of them or just shy, you’d be wrong. 

Research indicates the reason why we don’t talk to strangers comes down to two things:

  1. We think we’re boring and have nothing interesting to say, and
  2. Other people are boring, and they have nothing interesting to say.

That’s weird; we don’t talk to strangers because we think everyone is dull and uninteresting. 

Why you Should Talk to Strangers: An Experiment

In an experiment to see if strangers would talk to each other in a public place, behavioral scientists asked people to get on a commuter train, sit down next to someone they don’t know, and strike up a conversation. 

Before getting on the train, subjects thought about 50 percent of the conversations would be successful. 

Surprisingly, the results were different, as nearly 100 percent of the chats turned into successful conversations. 

And the average discussion lasted 14.5 minutes, which is quite a long time for absolute strangers. 

The research has been repeated in many locations, including bus stations and doctors’ waiting rooms. An interesting outcome from this research is that both people say they are happier after having the conversation

(While you’re considering ways to feel more connected to those around you, read this article about alternative greetings)

Where to Begin

You might be wondering, but where do I start? How do I initiate the chat?

Easy. Introduce yourself. 

Hmmm. That can be a bit unnerving. What’s the best way to do that?

Recently I saw a TV commercial for Google, where they were promoting all the great things you can learn from their search engine. They showed people asking, “How do I BLANK? How do I cook macaroni and cheese? How do I learn to play guitar? How do I introduce myself?”

That last one, How do I introduce myself, got me thinking, and well, I Googled it. The answer was soooo long! It had ten steps. NO! You don’t need ten steps to introduce yourself. 

Here’s my easy way, using my name.

Say, “Hi, I’m Barry! What’s your name?”

After they respond, say, “It’s nice to meet you! Where are you from?”

People LOVE to talk about where they’re from, so ask them to tell you about it. 

That’s it, very simple. The next time you have the opportunity to talk to strangers, remember that both of you will feel happier for doing it. 

You are interesting. They are interesting. 

Introduce yourself and have a great conversation.

(Read this article on how to emotionally connect while we’re social distancing)

Barry Moline is a keynote speaker, 25-year CEO and author of Connect! How to Quickly Collaborate for Success in Business and Life. You can reach him at

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you improve your business communication: 

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