Talking with strangers is something that I’ve gotten used to, mainly out of necessity from working in retail and customer service since the young, angsty age of 16. I’ll be the first to admit that 5 years straight of working in a grocery store made my “small talk” game strong (the trick is to know the next week’s weather forecast and have a basic understanding for current events). When I graduated from painful grocery store small talk to barista/bartender small talk, the relaxed setting of my new work environment made my interactions with strangers a little more bearable and authentic.
While small talk can be painfully tedious and repetitive, every beautiful conversation and meaningful connection with another human- started out as small talk in one way or another. When you met your parter or best friend, chances are your first conversation didn’t go like…
“hi, nice to meet you, i’m Sam. If pressing a button meant you received 5 million dollars but it also killed 5 people somewhere in the world, would you press it? What if it killed only 1 person or killed 20 people? What if the people were people you knew?“
or… maybe it did?
In contrast, James Hamblin’s article How to Talk to Strangers supports the idea of using a small talk technique called “Triangulation,” -which refers to finding something external that you and the other person both experiences- as the first building block for successfully talking to that stranger.
“Commenting on a shared experience tends to be less confrontational than making a remark about the other person directly, however flattering (read: creepy)”.
I have an experience of Triangulation with a stranger that seemed fairly insignificant at the time, but ended up being life changing. In July, when bartending on a slow Sunday morning, after hours and hours of no customers, 3 boys walked into a bar. I found myself generally more friendly and talkative from the beginning just out of excitement from basic human interaction. I helped the boys choose a beer, and then checked their ID’s. I noticed that they were from California, to which I used as a small talk point, as I was travelling there the following month! I started by asking where they were from in California, to which one of the boys responded that they were from Los Angeles and just visiting Vancouver for the weekend, I told them I would be there in August for two weeks, and asked for some recommendations! Here’s a TDLR version of what happened next…
boy – gives me his number to text him when I’m in LA for a drink
me – texts him right away because i’m not subtle at all
boy and me – go on date that night
(date goes well)
boy – flies back to LA
boy (2 weeks later) – flies back to Vancouver to spend a weekend with me
boy and me (6 months later) – in love ! ?
So I guess what i’m getting at here is… talk to strangers! Any interaction you have could turn into something pretty beautiful.
Hamblin, James. 2016. “How to Talk to Strangers.”