The Truth About Talking With Strangers

As seniors, we probably recall being warned as children about talking to strangers, but now, having been around the block more than a few times, we may wish to rethink those rules.  Studies show that small talk can make us smarter, healthier, and happier.

University of Michigan researchers discovered an increase in problem-solving abilities after casual social conversations. They also found that those interactions may lower the risk for heart attacks.

Another study found that commuters said their train ride was a lot more enjoyable when they engaged with other passengers, and those good feelings lasted for hours.

Maybe we still feel a little uncomfortable speaking up first, but the rewards are worth it. If we're ready to brush up on our small talk, these tips can help.

Benefits of Small Talk

1. Extend your network. Casual conversations can lead to job opportunities and business connections. We may meet a future client at the airport or deli.

2. Make friends. Close friendships and romances have to start somewhere too. Sharing an observation or extending a compliment may help us find companionship and love.

3. Develop new ideas. There's a natural tendency to surround ourselves with others who come from similar backgrounds and share our views. Reaching out beyond our comfort zone introduces yus to fresh perspectives and greater knowledge.

4. Increase our mindfulness. Is it difficult to focus on the present moment because we're overwhelmed by our to-do list? Talking with anyone face to face calls our attention to what's happening now.

Tips for Breaking the Ice

1. Assess the situation. Of course, some occasions are better suited for small talk than others. Someone who's concentrating on their golf swing isn't likely to laugh at our jokes. On the other hand, strangers who are making eye contact while stuck in a long boring line make excellent prospects.

2. Find common ground. Start off small. Browse online for something interesting to talk about. The weather and upbeat news stories are usually safe topics.

3. Look approachable. If we still feel awkward making the first move, we can encourage others to seek us out. Put a smile on our face. Carry an art magazine or a science journal. When we're in a hotel lounge or coffee shop, choose a seat that faces out into the crowd.

Tips for Sustaining a Conversation

1. Listen attentively. Show others that we're interested in what they have to say. Focus on their message instead of rehearsing our response.

2. Tell stories. Prepare amusing anecdotes for answering the usual questions about what we do or where we're from. Details create hooks that make it easier to keep the conversation going.

3. Ask questions. Pertinent questions also keep a discussion flowing. Make our inquiries open-ended so the responses require more than yes or no.

4. Go deeper. What's more satisfying than small talk? Research shows that we like small talk, but we tend to feel even better after a heart-to-heart chat. While we want to be sensible about how much personal information we disclose, we may also want to risk opening up a little.

5. Express our appreciation. It's easy to like others when they seem to like us. Let someone know if we think they're funny or insightful.

6. Follow up. Now that we're on a roll, find a way to stay in touch if we're hitting it off. Introduce ourselves and hand out our business card if appropriate. Look forward to meeting again if we frequent the same running track or schedule a coffee date if we want to be more proactive.

Running with scissors is still kind of risky, but talking with strangers is good for our health and career. Reach out, and see what a difference a little small talk can make in our daily routine.

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