Why you should Talk to Strangers on the Campus

Prof. Deepak Khanna, Management Area


Our Campus is full of people whom we do not know. We see them daily, we have even seen them perform on stage, in the playgrounds, etc. But they remain strangers to us. Isn’t that odd? Don’t you think it’s time to shake out of that comfortable cocoon in which you exist and meet some interesting people?

What are the advantages of mixing with unknown people and making them our friends?

1. If we only surround ourselves with people like ourselves, we get a pretty narrow view of the world. This leads to a limited understanding of the world as a whole. Try and increase your reach to others like seniors or juniors who might turn out to be interesting/helpful/supportive/informed/tutor-like/brother-like /sister-like/parent-like. In other words, it could be advantageous to meet new unknown folks and turn them into new buddies. On the other hand, it could be YOU who is proving to be a mentor to a junior and earn his gratitude and

affection, in return.

2.
The social connection with our hostel neighbours is beneficial to our health in the long run. Not only do we get obvious benefits like an extra pair of chappals and chit chat, there’s also possibly a connection with our overall health. As Prof Sudheer Kaicker told us in Chai & Why about his hostel life, “They were genuine emotional connections. They were liberating moments. The friendships have

lasted a lifetime!”


“Social connection at the neighbourhood level has long been known to be associated with good emotional health, and some aspects of physical health.” According to THE LANCET, a leading British

medical journal

3.
Talking with a stranger during a journey can improve it considerably. As a rail traveller recounted, “The journeys were almost poetic. Some of these were profound experiences. They were unexpected pleasures. They led to long time friendships and connections.”

4. The great thing about strangers is that we tend to put on our happy face when we meet them, reserving our crankier side for the people we know and love. When one of our sons was in school, we noticed that he felt free to act grumpy around us. But if he was forced to interact with a stranger or an acquaintance, he would perk right up. Then his own pleasant behaviour would often erase his bad mood.

5. Helping strangers builds human kinship. Take for instance the Mumbai rains. This year, a day after heavy rain – 30 times the average – crippled Mumbai, the people of the city opened their doors and hearts to help strangers. Locals were out on the road offering tea and food to those in need. Anand Mahindra tweeted: “A friend stuck in a car to the airport for 5 hrs told me that slum dwellers came out to serve stranded people tea & biscuits.”

Thousands of residents opened their homes to strangers who were stuck in the rain-hit city. On Twitter #RainHostshad 6000 plus entries offering food, chai and even shelter. The important thing about this observation is just how significant these interactions can be; how this special form of closeness with a stranger gives us something we need as much as they need us.  

6.Strangers can help us in small and big ways. Pieces of information that come our way when we make effort to be part of groups can make our day!For example “Don’t take theAC2 way as the door is closed today”, can save us a long walk. “The mulberry tree has fruits ready to be plucked” can provide an enjoyable hour or so of eating juicy berries and equally stimulating conversation. “The water cooler on the middle floor has the coldest water today” can provide us with cold water on a hot summer day. These quick interactions can lead to a feeling that sociologists call “fleeting intimacy.”

OK. So now that we know that talking to strangers matters, how to make it work for us?

Talking to strangers is like any other skill: the more you do it, the better you get at it. The best way to practice is to set weekly goals. You might begin by promising yourself that you’ll talk to two strangers in a week. After all, they are just students or faculty or some administration people and are

perfectly harmless. The mental block is our heads!
1.Your Body Language

  • Look approachable and friendly. If you look anxious or grim when you open up a conversation, you’re going to put the other person on the edge immediately.
  • Try to look relaxed and friendly to put other people at ease.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Smile whenever you make eye contact with people, even if you don’t plan to talk them.
  • Open up your body language. Throw your shoulders back, lift your head and raise yourchin. The more confident you look, the more people will want to talk to you.

2. Open with a small interaction. You might want to get to know someone, but opening with deep conversation topics out of the blue might turn people off. Instead of opening with a question about life goals, just make an observation or ask for a favour:

  • “Man, they have locked this door so early today. Now we will have to walk around the AC II.”

This is ‘triangulation’. There’s you, there’s a stranger, there’s some third thing that you both might see and comment on, like a closed door or somebody preaching loudly or somebody wearing funny clothes. Give it a try. Make a comment about that third thing, and see if starts a conversation.

  • “Do you know where the Green House plans to have its Big Day?”
  • “Could you plug in my laptop cord for me? The outlet’s behind you.”
  • “Do you know what time it is?”

3. Introduce yourself. Once you’ve opened with your small interaction, you want to find out the other person’s name. The best way to do that is simply to offer your own name. Etiquette will basically force the other person to introduce themselves in return. If he/she ignores your introduction, he’s either in a very bad mood or is rude — either way, it’s best you don’t try to pursue this conversation.

4. Ask open-ended questions. If you ask questions that have yes or no answers, the conversation could stall quickly. Instead, ask questions that encourage the conversation to open up rather than close down. For example:

  • “Hello, how are you? It’s a beautiful day.”
  • “What have you been up to today? You look tired.” 
  • “I’ve seen you here a lot. I suppose you share my interest in gymming.”
  • ” That’s a pretty dress. What’s your favourite colour?”
  •  “I am in CSE too, just a year senior. Which faculty impresses you the most?”
  • “That book you are carrying is really interesting. I read it last semester.”

5. Ask the person to explain something to you. Everyone likes to feel like they’re an expert on something. Even if you know a lot about the subject you end up talking about, ask the person to explain things to you. For example, if he is reading the news on his mobile, you can say “Oh, I saw some headlines, but didn’t have time to read the BRICS news today. Can you tell me what that was about?” People enjoy conversations more when they feel like they have something to teach.

6. Don’t be afraid to disagree. Finding common ground in a conversation is very important. As strange as it might seem strange, though, a good disagreement can be a great way to form a new relationship. Show the person you’re trying to talk to that hanging out with you won’t be boring. Engage him or her in a debate that lets each of you show off your intelligence.

  • Keep the debates light-hearted. If you see the other person getting worked up, back off immediately.
  • You want a good-natured back and forth, not an argument.
  • Make sure to smile and laugh often while debating to let everyone know you’re having a good time, not getting upset or serious.

7. Stick to safe topics. While you want to have a debate, you don’t want to stray into areas that will lead to an actual argument. A debate about religion or politics might result in hurt feelings, but one about the best travel spots or cricket team will stay lighthearted and fun. Other safe topics might include movies, music, books, or food or home state.

  • Don’t push too far, though. Asking someone if they like kids or dogs would be okay. But asking if they believe in ‘Moksha’ would be overbearing.

It can be awkward to talk to a someone on the street; you don’t know how they’re going to respond. But you can always talk to their dog or their baby. The dog or the baby is a social conduit to the person, and you can tell by how they respond whether they’re open to talking more.

  • You could offer semi-personal details about yourself, and let the other person decide whether they want to share. For example, “I’m a real mama’s boy/daddy’s girl. If we don’t talk every day, I just don’t feel right.” This challenge is ‘disclosure’. This is a very vulnerable thing to do, and it can be very rewarding. 

8. Don’t let rejection get you down. When you start putting yourself out there, you may well get the brush-off from someone you approach. But as a reasonable person, you know perfectly well that sometimes, people just don’t feel like talking. If someone rejects your approach, don’t take it personally!

  • People don’t bite. The worst thing that can happen is that someone will say they’re busy or want to be left alone. That’s not the end of the world!
  • Nobody’s watching or thinking about you but you. Don’t worry about people laughing at you — they’re all busy thinking about themselves.

TRY & FAIL BUT DON’T FAIL TO TRY – Stephen Kaggwa

 When you talk to strangers, you’re making beautiful interruptions into the routine, expected narrative of your daily life and theirs. You’re making unexpected connections. If you don’t talk to

strangers, you’re missing out on all of that.

References:

1) How to Talk to Anybody (www.wikihow.com

2) Why you should talk to Strangers, TED Talk By Kio Stark

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFpDK2KhAgw)

3) Mumbai Rains (www.businessstandard.com) and several other news articles