Don’t Talk to Strangers?

Strangers in public

by Cecilia Vargas

I can still hear that warning in my head: “Cecy, don’t talk to strangers!”

When I was twelve years old, I started to hear that more and more often from my parents. They warned me to be careful who I talked to on the street and not to give away any information about myself.

I understand that my parents were protecting their little girl; but when I grew older and became a business woman, I started to find out that this principle is completely the opposite in the business world. At a recent conference, Brian Tracy said that “the more people you know who have a positive opinion about you, the more successful you can become.” Similarly, my mentor taught me early in my career that “the person who shakes the most hands, is the person who makes the most money.”

I recently came across a predicament: Talking to strangers is a big part of my business, but why is it uncomfortable every single time? I almost have to force myself to talk to strangers each evry single time, even though in the last four years of my career, nine out of ten conversations with strangers have led to great business opportunities. Those same conversations have also led to referrals, and most importantly, great friendships. Through talking to strangers, my husband and I have been invited to one of the coolest birthday parties we’ve ever been to. We’ve also been asked to speak on three tv shows, two radio programs, an awesome limo party, an amazing homemade steak, a ride on a boat on one of the most beautiful lakes in Texas and at my husband’s birthday party, we were fortunate enough to have a full house of new friends; after just living in a new city for about a year and a half. By simply shifting my mindest towards strangers, I have met some of the most interesting and amazing people.

“the more people you know who have a positive opinion about you, the more successful you can become.”

I read this quote from a life coach recently: “What you’ve got when you interact with strangers is the development of empathy.” When you talk to someone and you find common ground, you can really make a connection and yet as I said before, every single day I have to force myself into starting a conversation with a stranger!

Finally, I decided to dig deep into this issue to understand what was stopping me from fully enjoying this experience of meeting new people. I started to wonder about it and I could hear those words in the back of my mind repeating what I learned when I was little: “Don’t talk to people you don’t know.” Afterall, I was trained as a kid in El Salvador not to look into the eyes of people on the street, so maybe that’s part of it—or maybe I still believe in the myth that others are not interested in talking to me.

Nevertheless, I decided to debunk the myths surrounding strangers. Did you know that a study done by researchers at Harvard showed that talking with strangers can be at least as important to our daily happiness as talking to our close friends and family? In the study, those who took the time and talked with strangers at the coffee shop, at the store, in line at the bank, or on the elevator, tended to enjoy the moment and ended up feeling happier than those who didn’t talk to anyone. Researchers expected this to be the case only with those who were extroverts; but to the researchers’ surprise, people with all types of personalities were happier after interacting with strangers.

So if we are happier when we talk to people we didn’t know before and this action could have a great impact on our health in a positive way, why not make it a habit?

Go and make somebody happy today! Compliment someone or strike up a conversation and create a new connection. I promise that you will really enjoy the experience—and you might end up making a wonderful new friend. My new philosophy on talking to strangers is this: I’m helping others have a happier day.

Cecilia Vargas

Cecilia Vargas is a Senior Marketing Director and Financial Services professional at PHP Agency. She is on the board for The PHP Ladies and with her husband, runs one of the top offices at PHP in Houston, Texas.

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