One of the first things we learn as kids is not to talk to strangers. It ranks right up there with eating our fruits and veggies, flossing daily and looking both ways before crossing the street. But as you get older, and have a better sense of your surroundings and companions,talking to strangers can be a rather rewarding experience.
The bottom line is this: people are fascinating. And talking to people outside your own social circle expands your circumference of human interaction. You meet the kinds of people who are less like you. You also realize others are more like you than you previously thought.
I’m lucky, because I get paid to talk to strangers. As a brand strategist, a big part of my job is consumer research. Every year I spend hours in focus groups, leading online discussions and even in people’s homes, getting to know them, asking questions about their beliefs, and evaluating their behaviors. It’s just as fascinating as it sounds. But I seek even more, outside of work. Whether it’s chatting up a taxi driver, talking to someone on the bus, or just exchanging a few more words than “necessary” with the grocery store clerk. How else would I have learned all about senior citizen body building competitions if I hadn’t struck up a conversation with the woman next to me on a recent flight? Or explored the differences between public transit in Istanbul and in San Francisco, if I hadn’t kept talking to a tourist after she asked for directions? Or heard an extremely odd stand-up comedy routine from a taxi driver, if I’d ignored him to check Facebook on my phone?
I have a challenge for you. Make it a point to talk to 3 strangers this week. They can be anyone – the guy at the register of the hardware store, the barista who makes your latte, the woman standing next to you waiting for the subway. Don’t be creepy; be curious. Talking to strangers can broaden your world. It can broaden your world view. And, importantly: it can broaden your point of view.