Life Lessons Learned From… Saying Hi To Strangers

Don’t talk to strangers, they said. Well, Say Hi To A Stranger is challenging you to do the complete opposite.

The concept of Say Hi To A Stranger is as simple as it sounds: say a kind hello to someone you don’t know yet. Hopefully, from that resulting exchange, you can learn more about other people and make some meaningful connections.

The campaign started as a response to the notion that Vancouverites are “closed-off”, “antisocial”, “cold-shouldered”, and “aloof”. Skeptical of this cold depiction of Vancouver, the Say Hi team strongly believes that by providing opportunities to get people to warm up and open up to one another, the social barriers that hold us back will break. They believe that through this experience, the general public will find that Vancouverites are among the friendliest people in the world.

The past weekend, the Say Hi To A Stranger group hosted a community-wide event across Metro Vancouver to raise awareness for this very issue and it’s very easy solution: saying hi!

Intrigued by the cause, I signed-up for the street team and learned much from my conversations and observations that will influence how I perceive and practice human interaction for lifetimes to come.

Escape the confinement of social fears

Before Say Hi To A Stranger, the idea of saying hi to strangers was unheard of to me. I’ve always shied away from striking up conversations with people I don’t already know.

Why? Oh, because I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to disturb them. I don’t want to face even a little bit of the feeling of rejection if the situation doesn’t go the way I wished it to go.

Of course, there are people who will prefer to keep to themselves, which you’ll be able to tell from their body language or them straight up saying so – it’s their prerogative and should be respected.

I can chalk it up to social awkwardness all I want, but my reluctance was preventing me from meeting cool folks. Taking baby steps, like being the first to say hi, is a good start in the right direction.

Lead with your eyes and your smile

People will generally stare straight ahead, glance around, or avert their eyes downward, but if you address them with welcoming eye contact and a genuine smile, they will generally be touched by your respectful acknowledgement. Try your best to avoid emulating a Tyra Banks ‘come-hither’ supermodel stare though, since most will find such smoulder intimidating.

Initiative the conversation with thoughtful curiosity

How you begin is the make-or-break moment of a good conversation, so you need to have a killer line ready in your conversation starter kit.

The default questions “How are you?”, “How’s it going?”, and “What’s new?”, while well-intentioned, leads to countless uninspired responses and dead-ends. Instead, try inquiring deeper: “What brings you here?”, “What has your day been like so far?”, “What do you love?”, “What’s something cool that you’ve done recently?”, and “What are you looking forward to in the next month?” are just a few ideas. The more specific and the more creative, the better.

If you’re really stuck, a compliment can always brighten up someone’s day and get the person sharing more about who they are. Prime example: the story behind a person’s tattoo sleeve.

Listen and relate

Don’t just stand there idly and half-pay attention to what the person is saying – really listen to and care about what they are sharing with you. You can discover common interests, learn something new, and find great inspiration.

During my interactions this weekend, I was engaged in conversations on topics from music and movies to feminism and religion. I learned things about people that you wouldn’t normally get out of a person until months of casual acquaintance-ship, let alone a first meeting!

We are one in the same

The main equalizer between all of us strangers is that we all seek connection and want to belong somewhere. This desire for community is ultimately what ties us together. If we try to remember that, mustering up the courage to meet new people is that much easier.

All weekend long, I witnessed the sharing of like minds, new friendships being born, and potential collaborators being formed. It should always be like this, don’t you think?

Cities (not just Vancouver) need more initiatives where people are presented with opportunities to be open and interactive, which in turn will have a trickle-down effect on how we go about our day-to-day lives.

How many times do you have an inkling to chat it up with someone? Wherever you are, try saying hi to someone new. You may meet a kindred spirit!

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