Talking to Strangers | Just Melissa
Hi my name is melissa urban and you're listening to do thing a podcast where we explore what's been and missing every time you've tried to make a change and make it stick today. I'm talking about another self experiment. I undertook more than six years ago and how it once again brought unexpected benefits in every the area of my life. Today's theme is connection how you can transform normally mundane social exchanges into meaningful encounters that can spark joy spread happiness and leave all of us feeling more present with and connected to our fellow humans. I hope by exploring these just melissa topics you'll you'll have your own lightbulb moment and successfully do the thing in today's modern world we are all so much more connected than ever but more or starve than ever for authentic personal connection despite all the social media comments and d._m.'s text messages and marco polo videos we send end and receive each day were lonely. Technology are overly scheduled lives stress and the way social media makes it look like our lives or perfect makes makes it harder than ever to seek authentic in person social connections and as i figured out when i moved from new hampshire to utah. It's really hard to make. New friends ends as an adult. What if there was an untapped resource for social engagement something that required minimal effort from you that seamlessly fit into you're already richly scheduled day something that left you feeling better about yourself in the world where you felt like you could show up fully and presently <unk>. Ask yourself something that allowed you to feel more connected to your community and your fellow humans but didn't require investing hours of your time or drawing going deep from your energetic resources. I discovered just this source more than six years ago and it kind of changed my life today. I wanna tell you about my melissa talks to strangers experiment and how you might discover that talking to strangers is the thing that's been missing missing in your longing for more real connection in your life. I grew up on the east coast and i spent most of my life there. I was born and raised in new hampshire and lived in various cities in new hampshire like basically all my life and here's how i describe east coasters. Were not rude. We just don't need to talk to you. If you're from the east coast. Maybe you can relate. We do things really fast and unless it's transactional or i actually know you. There's very little reason to start a conversation nation and this is always worked just fine for me because as an upholder i just want to get things done and so i don't need any unnecessary conversation around around my transactional experience with you. Also i'm an introvert and as an introvert. It's expensive for me to give you my energy like the more time i spend engaging with the people out in the world the more time i need by myself to recharge so i would not spend my social currency on things like you know talking to my cashier or my bank. Tell our or my barista. I would save it for family and friends and i would keep those engagements to a very cursory like high and thanks now. I don't know if everyone we went on the east. Coast is like this but this is definitely my experience and i noticed a huge difference when i go home to visit now compared to where i live now which is utah so i moved out here to the west about nine years ago and i immediately discovered that the culture here is very different so our first week here we walked into a local grocery store here called liberty heights fresh and our cashier greeted us with this super chirpy. Hey how are you guys doing anything fun this weekend and and my partner at the time who's originally from british columbia in an extrovert boot totally chatted her up so happily and i bagged groceries <unk> gave her like a weird little side and we walked out of the store and i remember saying she doesn't know us. Why does she care what we're doing this weekend and he had to explain to me that people are different in the west and other parts of the country and that chatting up strangers is pretty normal occurrence. I thought it was really weird and i did did not participate for a long time so long that like very often when i would be out in public engaging people would say you're not from here. Are you but in two thousand thirteen i thought okay i live here now. I should probably try to fit in a little better so over lunch. One day i hatched this experiment. Melissa talks to strangers. I called it so for thirty days. I committed that i would talk to basically everyone that i came into contact with for more than a few seconds so so this was like wait staff baristas the front desk person at the gym might uber driver every one. I thought it would be really weird and awkward but actually turns is out that it wasn't. I thought people would think i was weird but i couldn't believe how like ninety nine percent of people happily opened up right away. I learned to ask open but noninvasive questions like anything exciting happened today or that. Tattoo is really interesting. Did you get it done around here or stealing from my liberty heights cashier doing anything fun this weekend. I'd hear stories of wonderful an awful customers. I'd hear about an exam. They were studying for a a party. They were throwing favorite meals. They've eaten or cooked like we talked about kids and partners and foods and hikes and travel and every subject under the sun it is remarkable how much you can cover in just a few minutes with a total stranger but we would end up in these randomly begun conversations conversations. I would get a glimpse just a really small glimpse in narrow window into some aspect of their life for just a minute or two but these glimpses were so rich they felt so nourishing from a total stranger someone i would probably never see again. I noticed that car share rides. Were a a huge opportunity. I was traveling for thirty. I was in uber's and left's allot. I would always have like fifteen or twenty minutes at least to draw out my driver's vers leith experience so i heard about the motorcycles they rode the trips. They took the marriages that were flourishing like. I asked more than one uber driver who mentioned he'd been married for more than twenty five years like what's your secret. What's your advice and they were always so happy to share. I heard about marriages ending. I heard about kids. They were proud of. I heard about their kids with addiction and interestingly. I heard a lot of their own recovery stories. It feels like the universe put me in a lot of cars with a lot of recovering addicts and alcoholics so so that was interesting. I learned through these interactions that everyone has a story and every single person. I talked to was really really interesting. I could not believe how much i enjoyed these interactions. I met some remarkable people. I used to share them on instagram under the hashtag melissa talks to strangers so we'd take photos with them right snap a picture of like their steering wheel or their now empty exit row seat but i would share these experiences inches on instagram talking about all the incredible strangers i met and what we talked about. I met professional athletes. I met pilots. I met authors parents grandparents. I was going back through my old photos does and i remembered a dashing former race car driver named gus so apparently if you watch my instagram stories you know i have a soft spot for older men named gus but i remember when i told gus what kind of motorcycle road he laughed and said that's the first bike i ever stole does might be the coolest person i've ever met. I i also learned that these interactions didn't have to be particularly meaningful to fill me up. Sometimes they were really meaningful. So once i it was in california on book tour and my escort was driving me back from an event we had a significant amount of time stuck in traffic and she mentioned how much she really enjoyed hearing me talk hawk because her daughter is also recovering addict and that led to a long very heartfelt conversation about how helpless she feels and how much she default like it was her fault and it was me reassuring her that it wasn't and telling her all of the ways that she is already supporting her daughter and how she can support her daughter. It was a really he leave meaningful conversation and a few of those where it was obvious that god put me in this person's path for a reason but without my talking to strangers experiment everyman we never would have really connected. I would say most of them. Were just surface level connections a few like chit chats back and forth and then i left there line or got up from the table but still i was completely surprised by how much i gained from each and every one of these experiences one minute here two minutes there a couple times throughout my day. It left me feeling so good. I was so much happier after i left those engagements and i feel like the people full i left. Were happier to like. We were both smiling. We were both laughing. I feel like i made someone else's day a little bit better and i absolutely know that it made my day better. Another unexpected benefit was that it made me really good at small talk for things like parties or work events. I was already like pretty comfortable in that environment environment but when you get to practice several times a day in these completely safe environments it really bumps up your small talk game like no matter what in these talking stranger experiments your interaction is limited like at some point. I'm walking away and i may not see them again. Chances are never going to so. There's like no pressure whatsoever. It's awkward. If i say something don which i'll tell you about later 'cause i have said my share of dumb things. It's a cautionary tale years years learn and do something different next time but eventually i moved away from like how's your day going to coming up with really creative ways to open conversations nations and i practised staying really present for just those few moments which made me even more comfortable to walk into a party where i didn't know anybody. One of the most common questions i get when i talk about this experiment is what do you do if someone doesn't wanna talk. I honestly can only remember like maybe one or or two times where someone didn't wanna talk like i would open with like something funny or at ask a question and they would just sort of brush it off. Maybe it happened more often than i'm remembering like honestly ninety nine percent of the time. People were really happy to engage with me. I would say it was way more frequent that i didn't wanna talk. I would be in a bad mood. It'd be cranky. Rinke would be overtired. I'd be like over socialized and i would think to myself like i do not wanna come up with something nice to say to this total stranger but i'm gretchen rubin upholder holder so for the sake of the experiment. I would force myself to do it anyway. The most interesting part was that when i was at my crankiest or the most down talking to this total stranger even for just a few minutes completely lifted my spirits. It was an instant and powerful transformation. I was so whole again. I keep saying blown away but like this whole experiment was just so shocking to me that these short interactions with total strangers could affect me so much it was such a powerful lesson in the beauty of human connection and occasionally. These interactions did lead to so much more than just a two-minute interaction with a stranger. My waitress takashi became a friend in real life and now owns my favorite breakfast pot where i see her regularly. I follow more than in one of my starbucks baristas on instagram hide allan hi amber because our interactions at the drive through window were always so fun and now we like connecting real-life and remember three years ago i went to norway. I spent two weeks hiking in norway. The whole reason that i went to norway was because i talked to a stranger my sister and i i met these. Two guys from norway are thin and marcus at a restaurant. When we were in sedona they were sitting next to us that the bar we were eating dinner and we just started chatting them up three three hours. Later we exchanged phone numbers and instagram accounts we had taken pictures together and marcus said if you ever come to norway make sure you you let me know and so when i was thinking about going to norway i hit him up on instagram and i was like am thinking about coming out to norway and he helped me plan my entire trip start to to finish where to go where to stay how to get there. They met me for dinner. One night so we got to reconnect in norway and like share memories the whole reason i had that life changing aging trip is because i talked to strangers at a restaurant so honestly you never know what you're gonna get. When you open yourself up to connecting in real life to another person nine times out of ten i would rather shop online. No traffic no crowds. No no need to put on pants and thanks to my secret weapon honey. I know i'm always scoring. The best discounts with zero time wasted searching for online coupons. Honey is a free browser add on that finds me the best deals online and magically auto applies them to my cart at checkout. It works across all my favorite sites like amazon sephora the four best buy in nordstrom and just save me ten percent off my order of business cards. The average honey users save one hundred twenty six dollars a year. That's a year's supply apply of avocado oil mayo with zero effort look. There's no reason not to use honey. It's free to use and easy to install on your computer and just two clicks. Wchs and it'll save you money so you can treat yourself to something nice so shop with confidence. Get honey for free at join honey dot com slash do the thing that's that's join honey dot com slash. Do the thing honey this smart shopping assistant that saves you time and money when you're shopping online the the experiment original experiment was slated for a month but it lasted way longer than just much like my year of strong and bendy. I conscientiously kept the practice up for like like over two years and by now it's just habit. I've become one of those people who wants to know about your weekend. Even though i don't know you the east coast wouldn't know what to do with me and yes. I do this when i go back east and i know i get weird looks and i don't really mind so back to the idea of my introverted self. Wow this is like one of the most interesting parts of the experiment. I am super duper introvert. You follow me on instagram. You know that after big events i like to get into bed and all my clothes breath all by myself and like that's how i recharge. I'm very introverted. Thanks to my work with whole thirty. I've definitely extended my capacity to extrovert a lot so i can now handle all day events with hundreds of people and i can still bring my full energy to the very last person standing in my book signing line but i'm still very introverted roberta. I still need to recharge alone and i do still have to spend my energy currency or capital very carefully so i prepared for this talking to strangers experiment to drain me even more as kinda like okay. We're going to be spending this energetic currency now. Not just the people you now people you love but with total strangers but i discovered that these stranger interactions don't actually tap my energy much like way less than i expected. I thought it would cost i more and it turns out that it doesn't and i've been thinking about this in crafting this episode and thinking about what i wanted to share because i've never talked about this aspect before car and this is why i think it's not quite so energetically expensive for me. I think in part because there's no emotional investment like i'm fully present in the conversation actually care what you're saying back to me. I'm definitely being empathetic but i'm not emotionally invested. If you've had a really hard day or you're sharing a story that's emotionally complex or involved. I know that i don't have to stay connected to you or the story. Once i leave i'm because of that i think it lets me expend more energy. Oh gee for you in a less costly way for me. I think another reason it feels less. Energetically expensive is because i know were only in this engagement for a finite period of time so when a friend calls me on the phone first of all. I don't know what i'm going to get good news. Bad news heartcall easy call and i don't know if it's going to be two minutes or two hours in this situation situation. I know that we are only going to continue to have a conversation as long as i'm in your line or sitting at your table and the minute i get up and walk away. Our engagement is <unk> over so knowing that it's just a very finite period of time that i have to expend this energy makes it feel less expensive. It's not only only less energetically expensive. I actually have discovered that. I get a little energy boost from these interactions. It actually refills me a little you bet and i think in part it's because i see the smiles on their faces. When i leave i honestly believe that i have made their day just a little bit better by engaging by smiling by being kind by asking him a something about them and just by like making this connection and and i know how good it feels when someone genuinely interested in you even if it's just for a few minutes i think for these reasons these stranger interactions is actually a great great way for me to get the benefit of in-person social interaction with ou- tapping my limited social energy. It kind of feels like a hack so now that i've shared a little bit about melissa talks to strangers experiment. I wanna tell you how you can take on your own social experiment so you know along the way i've learn some things i've developed some tips. I've made mistakes and i thought i would share those here with you. In case them of you want to take advantage of these in person social engagements that may bring you so much more than you have to spend an early so here are some thoughts. The first thing i'll say is that literally. Everyone is a candidate candidate. You could talk to anybody in the whole wide world but if that feels a little intimidating think about talking to someone you're already talking talking to so you're already talking to your cashier at the grocery. Store your barista at the drive through window while you're waiting for your coffee your rideshare driver or your waitress. These are all fantastic antastic prospects 'cause you're already engaged in at least some level of conversation. If you wanted to take this next level you could talk to people you're not talking to but could could like the people next to you at the restaurant or the person behind you in line so the only thing i'll say though is just become scientious about this right. You don't want to interrupt someone's flow or interrupt their work or barge into what seems like an important conversation so like don't start a conversation with the bank teller counting out your change enjoy the barista. If you have a really long line behind you or if you can tell that the people at the table next to you are engaged in a job interview be a little bit sensitive here opening. These conversations versions may feel awkward but i promise it's not that hard so the first thing you can do if this is your goal to start a conversation with a stranger is to smile especially. If the person that you're going to talk to is providing a service they never know who's coming up to their counter. You may be there to complain or ask for the manager or go off off on this rant about how everything that they've done or this company has done is wrong so smiling sends a message that you're friendly and you're kind and you're not there to complain and that can be really really helpful all in having the person be receptive to your conversation to start the conversation. I would skip things like how are you or how's your day. Those are just so standard endured we ask those questions and i don't actually think anyone expects to hear back how your day actually as the only response you're gonna get is fine. Thanks how are you. That's not what we're going for here. There are some topics that are safe but kind of boring like the weather so fine you could start there if you want to but that may not elicit the kind of really fun interaction when you're aiming for i like the idea of asking an unexpected question not something that's so off kilter that they now wonder if you're like creepy but just something that kinda on a shake up in a fun way one question i often like to ask of my whole foods cashiers because i know that their stores open for really long hours is are you at the beginning of your shift or the end because because they're answer you know can provide good fodder for follow up so if they're at the beginning it was you know. Did you do anything fun last night or were you late last night if they're at the end of their shift it's like oh oh you must be really happy to get off of work. Have anything exciting going on tonight and that can prompt nice conversation or if i'm at the grocery store. I'll ask my cashier. Have you tried this yet or if they pick up a food and kind of look at it a longer. I'll ask that question and then i can kind of offer my experience based on their answer or i can ask my server. Where do you eat when you're not eating here which is like kind of fun right. I'm looking for a restaurant recco and obviously you like this food but like where else do you eat. I feel it. Complements are nice but they have to be really genuine and then often they can be a total dead end who i really like your pin and they're like thanks and that's not really going to get you anywhere but you can be a little bit more your creative and going to go with the flow and start some fun conversations so tattoos are a good one because generally people get twos because they want you to notice them or like they want to project project what they're thinking or feeling inside out to the world so i'll often ask someone with a tattoo like that's a beautiful to does it have special meaning or or you've got a few tattoos on your arm. Are you working up to something like a full sleeve occasionally. Someone will ask me about my tattoo. The ring on my left hand ring finger word that i'm in the process of getting removed so they'll say like oh is that a wedding ring and i'll say yes unfortunately and i don't mind talking about it and that actually always always leads to like kind of some kind of fun conversation. I don't mind making fun of myself about it an either tell me their story something like yes. I almost did that or we thought what about that or they'll tell me about a friend. Who's in the same boat or we'll just start. The conversation of like tattoos are actually permanent and then we'll kind of laugh and talk about our tattoo experiences says but that's just one avenue of conversation and that's like a little bit creative a little bit observational and can spark some fun discussion. I'll tell you about another one. There's one morning at target where my young cashier. I caught him in yawn during his morning shift and i was like caught you. Did you have a late night and then we had a great conversation about the exam he was up late studying for i'll tell you about another one that happened to target. I talked to a lot of people at target by the way i was in line with my son was a toddler at the time and there was a woman in front of me in line with her her toddler and they were puddings. Thomas the train books on the counter so you know she kind of smiled at me behind looking at my kid and put her book on the counter and i took a chance and i gave her a little smile and i kind of whispered to her. I think thomas the train is super creepy and she started laughing and she was. It's like oh my goodness. I hate thomas the train to and we just had this like really fun. Shared bonding moment over the fact that our kids make us read books that we sometimes do not like that was a favorite of mine keto. Bill kitchen is a meal delivery. Service offering prepared pared whole thirty approved meals. 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It's the easiest way to always have whole thirty emergency food on hand had two keto bell kitchen dot com and use the code do the thing for twenty five dollars off your first two orders of fifty dollars or more. You're okay. I'll tell you one more really fun. One i was standing in line at barnes and noble had this big stack of books in my hand and the top book was fiction book called barbara the slot got. It was very good by the way anyway. The woman behind me was an older very prim and proper looking woman so i've been talking to strangers mode so i turn around on and i say to her like oh you reading anything today and she shared the book that was in her pile and then she looked over my shoulder and she said what are you reading today and the book on top is called barbara the slot lot so she she kind of gave a look and then she started laughing and she said i hope it's very good and we kinda laughed because i felt a little bit like i was caught. I'm doing something naughty. Even though i wasn't and she was a lovely woman we talked about all the books in my pile and the books that she was reading and it was just this really authentic very very sweet engagement. I will say that you have to be careful in your openings. Though i think the biggest mistake you can make is to make an assumption so i will tell hell you one mistake i made when i was doing this. <hes> i forget where i was but boy do i remember i was in conversation with an older man and a young woman and sometime during the conversation i looked at her and i looked at him and i said your daughter has beautiful eyes and he paused and stared right at me and said god that's my girlfriend and i thought crap. That's not cool so don't make assumptions. Don't ask any sensitive questions. You might think something like do you of kids or are you. Married is innocuous but it's not that can be a really sensitive subject and that's a little too prying. Don't ask where they live. 'cause it can come off really creepy <hes> and don't ask anything that assumes their gender also asking where are you from based on their skin color or accent is culturally insensitive so please don't do that. You really just wanna stick to save topics here. Observations something that's directly in front of you sharing something about yourself off like if i hear one more christmas carol gonna lose my mind or the halloween. Decorations are already but i have to say. I like halloween way more than christmas. Those are relatively safe. It's also important once you open this conversation to stay present in the moment and actively listened to their response so if you ask a question and then immediately start scrolling grueling the're phone or looking around. That's not an engaged conversation like you want to give this person the president of your presence for those two moments that you're in this engagement and honestly honestly it's a gift for you as well so hold yourself to staying present and give this person your full attention for the few moments that you have. It's actually really good practice for active listening and other areas of your life to and then finally if they're not open to it or they decide not to talk fine. Just don't keep talking to them. It definitely happened to me a few times. I remember walking into a starbucks was playing reggae music and it was right around the holidays and i said to the cashier. You must be so psyched that they're not pumping humping christmas music through the speakers nonstop and he just kinda like looked at me gave me a little nod and then moved on nobile just move on if they don't wanna talk don't talk but also don't take it personally remember. It's not about you. There are any number of reasons that someone behind the counter or inline next you might right not wanna talk and none of them have to do with you so really don't sweat it the most important piece of feedback. I'll give you is just keep practicing the more. Are you do it. The easier it gets the more comfortable it is and the more positive feedback you get from others and the more you get to experience how good it feels for you you the more you'll want this to become a habit and listen. If you're from the south or the midwest you might be listening to this thinking like melissa. This is just what we do but is it still is it for those of us who are so enmeshed in social media and were so richly scheduled and we work and we have kids and their <unk> over scheduled and we feel like we don't have a lot of time for ourselves. Are you really making this kind of efforts still yes. Your area is very friendly and you're known for your you know open friendly people but like are you actually still making this effort in your own life. I think if you observe your own behavior you might discover. You've been pulling back more whether it's out out of habit whether it's on a schedule whether you're just over stressed or under slept think about it think about whether this is something you could enact in your life in a way that feels relatively effort less in that doesn't cost you a lot energetically. That doesn't take a ton of extra time but gives you all the benefit of in person social interaction. This is such an unexpected previously untapped resource without any extra drain hopefully if you're also an introvert. I feel like this could be so powerful. If you decide to take this on i would love to hear about your own social experiments. I want to hear what you opened with and what they said. In the kind of conversation you had how it made you feel how you think it made them feel. Whether this aspect is spilling over into any other area of your your life i want to hear all about it so you can post photos on instagram using the hashtag melissa talks to strangers so i can see them and you can add your story to my collection or you can d- liam me a photo or a description of your experience any way you want to get it to me. Send a raven if you want to but i really want to hear if you decide to take this on the impact that this has in your your life. I honestly suspect that this could be a missing factor in helping us all feel just a little bit more connected fire up this episode up. I do want to mention one thing. This episode was done a couple of days ago and i hadn't sent it to my producer yet. Because something was bothering offering me there was something missing and i realized after listening to it again that what was missing was an acknowledgement of my privilege in this situation and what do i mean by that. I know because i am a white straight able bodied persson with thin privilege and pretty privilege that i'm able to go out into the world and talk to a stranger and completely expect that they are going to receive me happily and that they're gonna talk back to me most of the time and that if they don't decide to engage in conversation with me that it's not about me. I never have to worry that. It's because of the color of my skin or because of the person i'm holding hands with or because of the way that i look that's an immense privilege walking out into into the world feeling like you can talk to anybody and be well received. I know people who do not have that privilege. I know that coach jacob has talked about dirty looks he gets when he goes out in public holding his husband's hand. I have black friends who tell me about being treated rudely by customer service service people and they always have to wonder if it's because of their skin i have a brother-in-law who's in a wheelchair and i have seen people be dismissive of him simply because of his disability ability it never occurred to me that other people might not have the same opportunities that i do until i really started examining my own privilege so i think it's very important to let you know that i know that part of the reason that i was able to undertake this experiment and get such incredible results assaults is because of the privilege i have simply by being born into this world the way that i was born so i invite all of you to think about this exercise is and whether this is something you wanna take on in your personal life and if you do whether there are certain privileges assigned to you because of the way you who are in this world that would make this experiment easier for you then it would for someone else while thinking about an acknowledging are privilege is difficult and certainly uncomfortable. It's also the very first step and helping us understand the individual life experiences of our fellow humans and connect with each other <hes> with more empathy. Thanks for joining me today on do the thing you can continue the conversation with me. The at melissa underscore hartwig on instagram and visit hold thirty dot com slash podcast for today's show notes and bonus content. If you have a question for deer melissa or a topic idea for the show leave me a voicemail at three two one two zero nine one four eight zero do the thing is part of the onward project family of podcast brought together by gretchen rubin all about how to make your life better check out the other onward project podcasts happier with gretchen rubin side-hustle school and happier in hollywood finally before you leave please subscribe leave a review and invite your friends to do the thing so you next week <music> from the onward project.