Talking to Strangers

Talking to Strangers

By Javier Solano

As we reclaim our social lives and return to some version of pre-pandemic normal, the loners are freaking out. Believe it or not, this is a thing

I believe it. I’m a loner. Big pile of awkward. I hate talking to strangers. (No offense if you don’t know me. It’s not you.) 

So while others were baking sourdough, making art and doing other sequestered things, I decided to do something about my biggest fear. No, not actually talk to strangers. Too much, too soon. Instead, I talked to someone about talking to someone.

Meet Lily Clayton Hansen, Nashville author, actor and unapologetic extrovert. She’s good at talking to strangers. She’s got a great TED Talk about it and lots of professional interviews to prove it. She gave me some good tips, and I wanted to share those with you via Socratic method if that’s OK.

  1. What would you say to this person if this person were your friend?
    Lily: “Really it’s just showing a genuine curiosity in them. Asking them questions and putting the focus on them allows me to take the focus off myself. I do this all the time in acting. By taking the focus off myself, I’m able to put the other person at ease as well as myself.”

  2. What if you were eager to hear what they say because they matter?
    Lily: “With my TED Talk, I just tried to remember that all these people are rooting for you. Or at least in my mind they were. So it’s like they want to hear you talk, and they want to hear you share. I believe that most people are genuinely very kind. I try to picture a very supportive, excited audience on the other side, rather than people that are going to judge me. I think that’s the main thing. The biggest fear of public speaking is, will I be judged. The bottom line is no, they’re excited to hear what you have to say.”

  3. What if you listened and enjoyed the other person in that moment, instead of thinking about the clever thing you’re going to say next?
    Lily: “It takes a certain amount of self-control. That’s the secret to life. I try to remind myself, it’s about the other person. I get my two cents in where I can. This approach taught me a beautiful lesson as an interviewer: When I talk, I make it count. Keep it brief, to the point, use it as a way to relate to the other person or build a bridge.”

  4. What if instead of dreading it, you looked forward to it?  
    Lily says talking to strangers is her self-care. I couldn’t imagine anything more awful. But maybe the problem isn’t my ability to ask questions or extend conversations in interesting ways. Maybe it’s my mindset. Working on it.