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How to Connect With Strangers

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistJune 05, 2019

As much as you might want to connect more with other people, the thought of striking up conversation with a stranger can be daunting – enough that you may prefer to remain safely in the confines of your shell. But there are ways that you can learn to at least poke your head out.

Begin by acknowledging your fears and then choosing to face them. Many people find it helpful to ask, What’s the worst that can happen? For instance, if you fear someone rebuffing you, would that really be so overwhelming? Or do you think you could continue with your life and basically be ok? It is also important to consider how not reaching out would leave you continuing to be alone in your insulated world.

Ultimately, the question you need to consider is whether the benefits you might gain from risking connection with others is worth it. If you decide that you do want to take the risk, here are a few suggestions that you might find helpful:

Offer yourself compassion: It is easy to succumb to your inner critic as it chastises you for your struggles. But the truth is that you are far from alone. It is human to fear rejection or embarrassment. Just as you would feel empathy and support a friend who was anxious about engaging socially, offer this same compassion to yourself.

Bring your curiosity with you: Once you commit to trying to be more social, you can make the process easier by refocusing from your fears to the ways in which you can open conversation. Some tips for this are:

  • Be aware of others around you, noting those who might be open to conversation or at least a quick interchange. For instance, if you make brief eye contact with someone and smile, you might sense they are open to conversation if they smile back.  (Many years ago, I was in a bookstore listening to a poetry reading when I did this – the man I smiled at then is now my husband!)
  • You might open conversation with an observation. “They are fun to watch” might lead to a simple agreement, or it may open a longer exchange.
  • You can extend a conversation, if the other person wants to talk, by asking open-ended questions. These questions ask for an answer that needs some elaboration, as opposed to a simple yes or no.
  • If you notice a person struggling with something (perhaps opening a door when their hands are full), ask if you can help, or just jump in and lend a hand. This can be a quick interaction that feels good, or it might open an opportunity for further discussion.

Be appreciative: When you practice noticing and appreciating the positive, it can help you feel more relaxed and often helps others feel good. For instance, you might compliment someone directly or share your appreciation of something you’ve observed. For example, if you were at a poetry reading (as I was all those years ago), a good conversation starter might be, “I’m impressed by their confidence in reading poetry in public.”

You may find it helpful to use these suggestions when you go to a party or any place specifically to meet others. However, simply remaining open to connecting with others in your daily life can offer many opportunities to enjoy brief connections with strangers, and perhaps even to spark new relationships.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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