“A stranger’s just a friend you do not know.” -Jim Reeves
As humans, we are social beings who are constantly looking for companionship. Be it personal life or work life, good companions make any journey bearable and worthwhile. In today’s fast-paced digital age, a natural human yearning for friendship aside, being able to connect with a stranger is an indispensable life skill. You have to be living under a rock to not realize the value of expanding your social network.
We are wired to connect with other people. Therefore, once you overcome your initial inhibitions, there are many ways to make friends with strangers. Letting your guard down and asking the right questions to get to know them are some basic steps to help you build on potential connections.
Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to make a meaningful connection with a stranger.
1. Be Mentally Prepared
For those of us who are shy and socially awkward, initiating friendships can feel like an overwhelming task. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You need connections, but you do not need to connect with every single person out there.
Reflect on the reason you want to make new, meaningful connections. Assess your own personality to figure out what kind of people you get along with and the type of people you can learn new things from. This will help you narrow down places and events where you can find such people or identify them if you come across them in unlikely situations.
2. Appear Approachable
The key to making a good first impression is to look friendly and approachable. As much as you would like to live in a non-judgemental world, you cannot help but be wary of people who scowl, slouch, dress shabbily, and keep to themselves. The first step is to dress up neatly, smile to appear friendly, maintain an open posture, and use a bright or neutral tone of voice.
3. Reach Out And Say “Hi”
Saying “hi,” “hello,” and “good morning/afternoon/evening” with a smile lets the other person know that you wish to talk to them. The way they respond to your greeting will give you a fair idea of whether they wish to engage in a conversation with you or not. If they greet back warmly, start a conversation on a neutral topic right away. If they seem aloof, give them their space.
4. Find Common Ground
The best way to begin a conversation is by talking about something common between you and the stranger. It is quite easy. All you need to do is be aware of your environment. If you come across them at a park, talk about things you notice in the park. If it’s a museum, discuss the exhibits there. If it’s a professional conference, talk business or ask for some professional advice.
Also, you may simply strike up a conversation about something the other person is wearing or carrying that you find interesting. Compliment them, express your interest, ask them to tell you more about it, and give you recommendations, suggestions, opinions, or advice (if they seem receptive to it).
5. Work On Your Body Language
Appearing approachable involves displaying good body language. Looking nice is only basic etiquette, and it is not enough to maintain the first good impression you make. You need to also maintain your friendly tone and positive posture throughout. Roll back your shoulders, lean in when they speak, nod, and react appropriately to what they are saying. Most importantly, make eye contact!
6. Listen Empathetically And Responsively
Being a good listener is fundamental to being a good conversationalist and building great interpersonal relationships. If you have asked a question, it only makes sense that you listen to how it is being answered. Be empathetic by trying to understand their perspective and respond accordingly.
You either respond by reacting or by sharing a similar personal experience or opinion to let the other person know that you are trying to understand them. This helps them let their guard down and interact comfortably with you.
7. Don’t Take Things Personally
Sure, you are trying to make friends, but it will be helpful to remember that they are still strangers until you get to know them deeply. They have a complicated history too. If some of their opinions are strongly contradictory to yours, accept that because it comes from a place of their own personal experiences and learnings in life and has nothing to do with you. You are a stranger to them too. They are not out to challenge and win against you. So, do not judge them unfairly.
8. Decide If You Wish To Continue Interacting With Them
If you have met this stranger unexpectedly, say at a mart or at an airport lobby, you might not see them again. If you wish to further discuss your thoughts with them about something, offer them your business card or ask them for their contact details. Send them a message of gratitude for their time at the end of the day.
It is great if the conversation keeps flowing, but if it does not, follow up a week later by sharing relevant readings and your thoughts about them to continue where you left off. If they still don’t respond, it is best to avoid further contact as it may not be welcome.
9. Acknowledge Your Differences
No two people in the world are alike. No matter how brilliantly you hit it off with someone initially, as you continue interacting, there will come a point where you simply cannot agree with them. And that is okay. If they were just a copy of you, why would you need them?
If you do not agree with them, let them know that politely while also telling them that you acknowledge their thoughts and will keep them in mind. Likewise, remember to validate them when you agree with them as well.
All humans are connected in some way. All we need is to find what connects us and decide if we wish to build on it. Then, you can continue to take steps toward making these connections deep and meaningful. While trying to build connections with strangers, you may come across people you just cannot see eye to eye with.
You may not wish to continue interacting with them, or they might reject you. Be prepared for it. That being said, the important takeaway is to be unafraid of reaching out. After all, strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet!