How to talk to strangers (VIDEO)

The Atlantic did a little experiment using one of its editors and a bunch of unsuspecting strangers in Brooklyn. Would you have the nerve to do what he did?

Carolyn Lagattuta | Stocksy United

Think of all of the people you ignore in a single day. All of us pass by strangers without saying hello or making eye contact and certainly without striking up a conversation. Those of us who live busy lives in big cities often have no option but to ignore dozens of strangers every day. Even people in small towns with a more welcoming culture ignore strangers from time to time. Most of us have been socialized to avoid strangers, and when we do talk to them, we feel shy, awkward, and weird. That doesn’t mean we can’t train ourselves to do it. Though it might not be practical (or safe!) to get acquainted with every stranger we encounter, how much richer would our lives be if we opened ourselves up to strangers and their lives just a little more often?

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A recent Atlantic video interviewed Kio Stark, author of When Strangers Meet, for a simple tip: triangulation. Triangulation is very simply using something—anything!—in the environment you share with a stranger to initiative conversation. As you’ll note in the video, host James Hamblin uses triangulation to approach strangers in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Whether it’s a Harry Potter book, a ukulele, or a scooter, it doesn’t really matter. Hamblin makes it work. Watch how he uses everyday objects to relate to strangers:


Gamblin’s little experiment is evidence that any of us can really talk about anything with anybody—certainly when our environment or situation is mutual. We all have something in common, not just in the carefully curated world of social media but in the real world, where someone we don’t know is standing ten feet away from us. Encountering a stranger doesn’t have to take long. Brief conversations can be meaningful, too—small talk is often the gateway to deeper, more lasting friendships. When we open ourselves up to strangers, we give a little of ourselves to them and in that act, we often get something back.

This weekend, try your hand at triangulation and see who you meet. A stranger might inspire you for a moment or even end up becoming a dear friend.

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