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11 Ways To Overcome The Fear of Talking To Strangers

Put me in a room with ten, one hundred, or one thousand people, give me enough time and I know everyone.  I know just about every person on my block, and two blocks over as well.

When my wife ask me why I was at the gym so long my routine answer has become I was talking with Elaine (we’re both foodies), or with someone else I may have happened meet.

Just about every kid in the neighborhood knows me because I’ll stop my car, get out and start playing ball with a bunch of kids I don’t know.  It feels weird to them at first, but it doesn’t take long before one those kids is sitting on my porch sharing with me, or hanging with me in the gym.

Last Saturday I had breakfast with Travis, a guy who up until then I barely knew. We’d just just met through a mutual friend, Tyrone, not

overcoming the fear of talking with strangers rodney goldston and travis winters

Travis and I after breakfast at Sabrina’s Cafe

long ago.  I invited him to breakfast. The night before my wife actually said to me that seems weird.  And to her it was.

Turns out Travis and I have quite a bit in common.  Travis gave me some positive encouragement me to reach out to a sick friend and mentor I had not seen in sometime (quite frankly because it’s just emotionally painful for me).  I encouraged him to get off the Facebook Crackpipe and get started building his media empire around is passion for fashion consulting.  He’s coming out with a men’s fashion blog soon (isn’t that right Travis), so be on the look out.  When he blows up don’t forget you heard it here first (smile).

Why I Don’t Fear Talking To Strangers

There’s a reason why I’m not afraid of talking with strangers.  It’s because I genuinely enjoy talking with people. I like people of all shapes, races, sexes, and creeds.  However, I’m aware that many people really fear talking to strangers.  And, not that theres not good reason to fear strangers, especially these days.  I also suspect there maybe some historical buildup in our DNA from our Cro-Magnon ancestors that protected them from becoming a neighbors conquest.

2 Reasons People Fear Talking To Strangers

The two main reasons I think people have a unhealthy fear of talking with strangers is

  1. The conceptual way they view opening up to people they don’t know.
  2. The way they view fear.

The Conceptual Problem With How People View Strangers

If you view getting to know strangers as something that can somehow harm you physically, emotionally, or financially you’ll avoid it and seek to stay in your comfort zone.  But if you view building your network as your best chance to move forward then you’ll seek to leave your comfort zone.

In the new connected economy fearing talking to strangers is sure fire way not to get very far.

How We View Fearing Strangers

I spent many years as a commissioned salesman. The primary job of every salesperson is to meet strangers, and turn them into customers.  It’s the only way sales people get paid.  Early on in my career I learned that the best strategy for earning a good living was to embrace the fear of talking with strangers, and seek opportunities to talk with as many strangers as I possibly could each day.  So my view of strangers was that they were helping to feed my family.  This is just one more reason I think just about everyone can benefit from spending some time in sales.

11 Things You Can Do To Overcome Fear of Talking To Strangers

  1. Just say Hi.
    1. This simple phrase opens up the door.
  2. Say your name.
    1. Add it to the tale end of hi
    2. Hi…my name is Rodney
  3. Stick your hand out.
    1. Say hi…say your name…and stick out your hand.
    2. It’s acceptable practice in America, no one will think you’re weird because you offered to shake their hand.
    3. The hand shake is so common that you won’t stand out for doing it, but in business environments you will stand out for not doing it.
  4. Touch an elbow and smile
    1. An advanced technique I learned in sales training.  An extended arm with a hand on the end of it (the hand shake) is not very personal.  A simple gesture of touching the persons elbow, or placing your hand on their shoulder while you’re shaking their hand put’s you in their personal space.  Combined with a genuine smile has the psychological effect of causing both parties to loosen up.
  5. Join the visitors team.
    1. My wife and I serve on the visitors ministry at our local church fellowship.  Each Sunday our church serves snacks, and coffee/tea to people who have come out for the first time and want learn more about our church.  Finding a similar place to serve can offer a safe and non-threating way to engage with people you don’t know.  I meet so many people I normally would not have.
  6. Lose the hidden agenda.
    1. Look people aren’t stupid.  If you’ve got some hidden motive for saying hi…they’ll know.  Think about it…don’t you loathe when someone says hi to you and before you know it they’re inviting you to a ‘businesses opportunity’.
  7. Offer advice.
    1. One of my best relationships at my local YMCA is with a 82 year old man named Amos.  About 7 years ago we met in the pool.  He was in the lane next to me.  I couldn’t miss him, he was splashing around like a fish out of water.  I just said hey would like to show how improve your swimming stroke.  We’ve been friends ever since.  My talks with Amos are great.  Amos is a retired Philadelphia tailor.  Wilt Chamberlain was one of his clients.  Amos had me over to his house to show me his sewing room (something he never does). And not to mention all the advice this guy gives me about life in general…all just from saying hi…can I help you with that.
  8. Ask for help.
    1. Most people like helping others.  The gym is a great place, in a non-threating environment where you can ask the person on the piece of equipment next to you for a spot, or help.  Say thanks and move on. But now the next time you see them at the gym, or in the neighborhood they’re not a stranger anymore.
  9. Ask people to share.
    1. Last night my wife and I had dinner at a local restaurant.  I ordered Philly Cheesesteak Soup.  It was delicious.  I noticed the sous-chief walking past our table and said…hi…my name is Rodney….I’ve got a question about the soup….how did you make that.  Well that turned into a wonderful 10 minute conversation about soup, custom vinegars, where she’d worked before, how she started cooking, and how we both love supermarkets.  Her name is Laura and the text time we visit the restaurant we’ll have a friend there.
  10. Notice People
    1. About 10 years ago, maybe more, my wife noticed a lady sitting alone at the home-school co-op.  My wife said hi and the combined acts of noticing and saying hi has led to a long-time friendship, ton’s of laughs, parties, tear sharing, prayer sharing, extended friendships, family memories, and many many delicious Cuban dinners at our wonderful friend Lily’s house.
  11. Seth Godin has a good suggestion for over coming your fear of talking with strangers.  He suggest going to a soup kitchen, and not only spending an hour serving lunch, but also sit down for an hour afterward, look the people there in the eye and ask them to tell their story.

Something to Make You Go…Hmm!  Saying hi could change someone’s life.  Two years ago I met a high school senior at the gym (can you tell I spend a lot of time in the gym) who was about to join the Army simply because he thought it was the only way he could afford to go to college.  I asked him about his grades and he told me he maintained a high B average.  Turns out this kid simply was not getting the best advice.  I sent him a text message with a list of scholarships and he’s now going to college in New York.  The next time I saw him at the gym he told me that conversation changed his life.

You never know…say hi…change a life…wow!

 

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