How to talk to strangers 

By  Lysette Offley

How to talk to strangers - photo of people focusing on their 'phonesYou’d hardly think we’d need instruction on how to talk to strangers, would you?

Or would you?

After all, haven’t we all grown up with the motto, “Don’t talk to strangers?”

Of course, that’s meant to keep young and vulnerable people safe.

And if you think about it, from an evolutionary perspective, it would have been safer to have steered clear of people unknown to your own tribe who might be after your cave, your food, your children…

The most effective way for your unconscious mind (the part of your brain that is there to make sense of the world and keep you safe) to keep you away from perceived danger, is to make you afraid of it.

Enter (roll on drums) phobias.

I did say perceived danger, didn’t I?

How to talk to strangers - photo of balloonsOne man’s phobia is another man’s joke. But it’s the same underlying automatic and unconscious safeguard keeping one person away from snakes (probably a good idea?), high places (probably another good idea?) and loud noises (definitely a good idea in the war-torn areas of the world.) And it’s the same underlying automatic and unconscious safeguard keeping another away from buttons, clowns, spiders and balloons.

At first glance it may seem that some fears are more useful than others, given that we no longer live in caves, and have to stalk and catch our prey “out there” where danger lurks, without becoming prey ourselves in the process.

Surely this evolutionary mechanism is also behind xenophobia? We might attempt to justify any negative attitude towards other people from a different background: There’s something wrong with them, and we should know, because we’re alright. Obviously!  🙂

We can rationalise all we like, but ultimately what’s going on is fear. Fear of the unknown. Because clearly, we’re not as familiar with the beliefs and values and traditions of people from other backgrounds differet from ours.

My mum tells a charming story from when she was teaching the Reception class at St Nicolas School, Abingdon.  She was doing her, “Don’t talk to strangers” routine, trying to reinforce a point without scaring them to death, when a five-year-old piped up, “But Mrs Robson, I don’t know any strangers!”

Smart kid! No arguing with that!  🙂

And that’s the point of my article: how on earth are we going to get to know the strangers around us, when more and more of us aren’t even glancing up at them from our smartphones?

How are our children learning the necessary social skills to relate to actual people, when their attention is stuck in virtual reality?

How to talk to strangers - photo of people focusing on their 'phonesWe’ve just got back from Hong Kong and China, where I took these photographs. Look! It’s the same everywhere you go in the world! Addicted to technology!

There is a particular website where I have access to good quality photographs that I can use for my business. If I search for pictures of students, 95% of them are photographs of young people glued to a screen in their hand.

So that’s a student is it?

It’s bad enough that my generation spends so much time paying more attention to our devices than to the company around us. It’s called ‘phubbing’ (snubbing someone by use of a ‘phone!) and we all do it… some more than others. (You know who you are!)

But what about our youngsters who grew up never knowing anything different; never learning how to strike up a conversation with the person next to you? I mean, why would they? They’re already having a conversation through the device in their hand.

Worryingly, according to the medical profession, our youngsters are growing up with a widow’s hunch. They are actually developing hunchback problems (kyphosis, if you want the medical term) because of the amount of time they spend hunched over their ‘phones.

If you think that’s bad for your health, consider the fact that isolating yourself from real people has a whole bunch of knock-on negatives, including, get this, a 67% greater chance of a heart attack!

No kidding!

We are social animals.

Ignore this at our peril!


Book - When strangers meetWhen Strangers Meet

How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You

  • What is a stranger?
  • Why you should talk to strangers
  • How to talk to strangers


How to talk to strangers

Most of us grew up being told not to do it!

Here’s a great article about the negative effect on our health of not talking to strangers and the beneficial impact of doing so. It’s a bit of an eye-opener!


Learning is fun! Or is it?


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  1. Excellent. Once one thinks about it and LOOKS, it is happening all around us. When I was younger, lots younger, no one had a car and no one had any form of telephone. Whilst I was involved in EOD it took me a lot of effort to persuade those above me that a phone in my house rather than send soldier in a Landrover to call me out made economic sense. We all used public telephones and whilst queuing to use one we talked to those waiting. We used the bus and again talked to the people queuing for the bus and on the bus. We did a lot of walking and met people and talked. Things have changed and NOT for the better.

  2. Hi Dad! It’s not looking good for our young people, is it? Our ‘phones are so addictive. They’ve even invented an app that uses the camera, to let you see though the screen regardless of the programme you have open. Why? So you can see the pavement below you, to give you a (slightly) better chance of not getting run over by traffic! Strewth! What has it come to, eh? I’m beginning to sound like my dad! Funny that…! 🙂 xx

  3. I’d love to write a witty or useful comment here, but instead of interacting with my device, I’m going to go out and talk to a stranger. Well, maybe after a night’s sleep.

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Lysette Offley

Genius Maker & Founder of Genius Material and The Genius Principles. Working with professionals who need exceptional academic & professional development.

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