Talking to strangers

My mornings walking to uni often involve some savouring the beauties of Sydney, like the amazing jacaranda trees. But not only that, I often also use my 40 minutes walking commute to listen to podcasts. Today’s episode was amazing and left me thinking more about my attitudes and how I can improve my connection with people. Since being a researcher is making me increasingly introspective. It’s not that I don’t talk to people, I just don’t make much effort.

Is that you? Do you dare to talk to strangers, ‘normal’ people, famous people, influential people, important people, the person sitting on the other side of the cafe, or the other on the other side of the bar? Do you make any effort for it?

Brian Grazer, now a famous Hollywood film producer, has not always been famous and kind of a celebrity. He says that when he was a ‘nobody’ and had a ‘nobody’s’ job, he started this ‘mission’ of talking to people he didn’t know, in a quest to learn things. He even made a list of the most important people in the company where he used to work, and who he would like to talk to. And he began to see that it worked. He was able to talk to everyone on the list, of course people weren’t always very nice, but he always got a few minutes with these people, or turned 5 minutes into an hour of conversation.

And he has some tips that we could use on our lives:

  • Do your homework. Do some research on the person, discover common interests, something that shows that you and that other person are simply two human beings. Find out about unusual things to talk to them, work they’ve done, something that connects you and them.
  • Be kind on the approach. Kindness (usually) is received with kindness.
  • Don’t ask for anything. Make the interaction genuine, it is about your interest in the person, not about things you can gain from her.
  • Be ready to learn even when it goes super wrong. Of course there will be times when the person will have zero interest in talking to you. But you can always learn from experience. Like, why were you uncomfortable?

And it’s not that he’s not afraid, but he uses fear as a thermometer that indicates what matters to him. When he is afraid to talk to someone, it shows that the person is important to him, and that is when he decides that he will definitely talk to that person.

Bringing this to my life as a researcher today, these can help me talk to people I admire, famous authors, colleagues, teachers. And using fear as a thermometer is a fantastic idea, and can help me to use my anxiety to my advantage.

Brian Grazer is the author of the book Face to Face: The Art of Human Connection, where he tells stories of conversations with people and how to build relationships. The podcast where I listened to the interview is 10% Happier.