The Company of Strangers

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Imagine that you are riding on a train or subway and there is someone sitting next to you. They are working on their laptop, reading, or staring at their phone. How likely do you think it would be that they would want to talk to you if you started talking to them?

If you are like most people, your answer will be, “not very.”

But you’d be wrong.

If you do, chances are good that not only will the stranger be willing to talk with you, but it will make both your days.

In 2014 researchers, Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder, did an experiment.

They had some research assistantswait at the beginning of a commuter train line at a train station in Chicago. They would approach a random person after recording their sex, approximate age, and some other things. They would offer the commuter a gift card to take part in the experiment. If they said, ”yes,” they gave them a packet with a return envelope, some questions to answer, and the gift card.

The three tasks were either to talk to the person sitting next to them, stay as solitary as possible, or do whatever it was they ordinarily did. At the end of the trip, they filled out the forms and sent them back.

The questions on the form were like, “did you talk to anyone?” “How long did you talk?” “How did the person you talked to feel about it?” “How did you feel at the beginning of the trip?” ”How did you feel at the end?” “Did you enjoy the conversation?”Additionally, there was a personality test.

Then, they did almost exactly the same experiment again. However, this time they asked the people to imagine they were approached and asked to do the tasks above but to just do what they normally do.

Because of that, they could compare what happened to what people thought would happen. They filled out the same forms and, also, received a gift card.

It turns out, that what the people guessed would happen and what happened were opposite.

The majority of people believed that they would be bothering people by talking to them. They expected the people they talked to to blow them off. surprisingly, by far, most people were glad to talk to someone and seemed to enjoy the conversation.

Not only that, the people who had been tapped to try the experiment enjoyed it too. They found that by the end of the trip, they were in better moods than at the start.

Just think what this means about approaching people anywhere. Perhaps, at a Meetup, in a coffee shop, at school, or at work. It means there is no reason to be afraid of doing it. People will enjoy interacting with you and you will rarely be rejected.

Not only that,when you meet more people, you get luckier.

How does that work?

Well, the more people you talk to the more likely you are to find outabout an apartment that’s coming up for rent, a job opening that has just happened, or to find out about a concert, movie, or new technology that will make your life better.

Of course, a lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking to strangers. In fact, there are books and websites of opening lines. But, with all the choices, people who are good at it use an opening line that is tried and true.


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Donald Steiny is a consultant and coach who writes and speaks about relating to others, personal and business networks, social capital, and changing beliefs, attitude and behavior.

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