Social Skills, Travel

Conversating with Strangers

A while back I talked about how major religious figures are travelers and homed in on four of the ways that the act of traveling changes the mind. I launched a personal project to work on these qualities in myself, starting with “social bravery” or talking easily with strangers. Last time I posted on the topic, I was only half done. Where am I now? Well…

Social Bravery II

The first part of my social bravery project was to strike up conversations with three new people. They can’t be introduced to me, they can’t have a pre-existing motive to befriend me, and they can’t be paid to wait on me. Anyone else is fair game.

Photo Credit: Happiness & Co. by Xavier Luque

That part went great, but just striking up a conversation and then parting ways was not fulfilling. It is a nice low-pressure way to get over hangups, and I recommend it to anyone who feels social anxiety, but for me this short “meet and greet” felt incomplete. So, I took it further.

My plan for Part II was to talk to three more strangers, but this time make plans for further contact with each one. It could be FBFing them (feel free, I’ll talk), emailing them, going to a party together…. anything, as long as the initial conversation finished with a mutual intention to continue relating.

This is more daunting than just talking to strangers. It takes more than courage – it means being interesting enough that someone will actually want more. Many people aren’t confident about this. I worried I’d seem creepy or they’d imagine an ulterior motive. What if it just came across as me hitting on them?

So I had to know how to make good conversation.

Three Snippets for Good Making-of-the-Words

I’ve learned to keep three snippets in my pocket: a “have you heard,” a “did you know,” and an “I think.”

  • A “have you heard…” story is typically about a current event. It’s a great opener because it invites discussion. It draws on presumably shared ground, bringing up something they possibly have heard. If so, shut up as soon as possible and let them talk about it. Otherwise, fill them in. Bad ones are too obvious (“Have you heard about hurricane Katrina?”). My most recent is “Have you heard that Pompeii is collapsing?”
  • A “did you know?” is better for further into the conversation. It lets you showcase your area of knowledge or put the focus on something that interests you. It’s something they likely don’t know. What you choose says a little about your personality, so it’s also more intimate. If done too early it’s just pushy. A recent: “Did you know people are teaching robots how to deceive?”
  • An “I think…” is pure opinion. You have to accept that others could disagree, and welcome and enjoy the discussion that follows, or you’re an ass. So keep that in mind when choosing your “I think.” If you firmly believe that soybean candles are the best candles and only a stupid idiot would use beeswax, then leave candle talk aside and choose something noncontroversial like politics. My recent favorite: “I think that books will be completely obsolete in twelve years.” (Duke it out in the comments, folks!)
Photo Credit: Punk Love by malloreigh

“Have you heard that denim jackets are back?” “Did you know I’m wearing blue tights?” “I think I have one in my mouth.” The three snippets always work.

The three snippets are better than stock questions like “What do you do?” or “Are you from around here?” Those are the questions you ask to pass time with someone you don’t really want to talk to. By sharing things of interest you show that you really do want to get to know them and hear their opinion. By having ideas to present, rather than just questions to ask, you show that the burden is not all on them. You bring something to the conversation.

Remember, if you’re reading this you’re already interesting. Not because Rogue Priest is some kind of magnet for interesting people (though I’d love that) but because you have thousands of days of life and many years of education behind you. Before you go into a social occasion, draw your three snippets from somewhere in your immense body of experience and keep them in your back pocket. Offer them to new acquaintances like cigarettes in a noir film.

The Results

So how did Part II go? As it turns out I got my three and then some. It worked – but precisely because it worked, I can’t list the results here. When a person becomes a friend it somehow feels odd to dissect them namelessly like Guy with Book at Vietnamese Restaurant. So I won’t, and I’ll leave you to do the experiment and meet your own amazing people. I’m also making a list of the amazing people who have inspired me to write this kind of blog so that I can provide links to their writing in the near future.

ALSO coming up: My next post, this Saturday, will redefine this blog. I’m getting back to my original purpose: launching my Great Adventure, living the heroic path, and changing the world. I’ve made huge strides forward in planning my lifestyle change and this blog will be the chronicle – so be ready!

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My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

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