Scared of Talking to People You Don’t Know? Take the Challenge

March 14, 2016

Do you fancy a challenge? For some it’ll be as easy as breathing. For others like me, not so much.

It’s amazing how little incidents in our day can be so important. A few afternoons ago I was sitting in my favourite lunch spot. It was sunny and the wall on which I leant gave shelter from the wind and radiated heat; it felt like spring had arrived. The sun on the ruffled sea and the granite cliffs dotted with gorse and blackthorn made for an exquisite scene. Nearby, a man stood at the edge of the slipway fishing for grey mullet.

As I sat happy in my own world enjoying the warmth and the scenery, something occurred to me. Perhaps I could talk to the fisherman.

This sounds like a strange thought to have, but let me explain.

It’s been bothering me lately that I find it so hard to talk to people I don’t know. I envy those who effortlessly chatter away to people on the street or in a pub as though they’ve known them for years. It seems like life is better when you can interact with people freely.

But right now I find it scary, and I’m not good at it. The hardest part is finding something to say. When introduced to someone, or a guy in the line in the supermarket starts a conversation, I start scouring my brain in search of something – a sentence, or even a word that could be worth uttering. Nothing. Nearly everything I do come up sounds stupid or boring in my head, so I mostly keep quiet and smile.

In attempt to change this, I’m trying to start taking good opportunities to have conversations with people I don’t know.

This was one of those moments, in my lunch spot. It was an ideal opportunity because fishermen are easy targets; there are so many obvious questions to ask.

I went and stood near him, and looked down at the two large mullet he was hunting. They appeared unaware of his intentions, as they drifted lazily back and forth on the gentle swell.

The man obviously didn’t suffer from the same condition as me; with eyes fixed on the water he preceded to provide a detailed and lively commentary on the movements of the silvery pair in the shallows.

‘Why are there so many crab shells down there?’ I asked.

‘Cus people been dumpin em there,’ the man replied. ‘It’s them that they’re feeding on.’

‘They eat crab shells?’

‘No, the bits of brown meat left in em,’ he replied.

I continued to quiz him on the topic of fishing, which is an interest of mine too so it wasn’t hard. Apparently mullet are hard to catch because their mouths are really small. It looked fairly big to me when he finally hooked one and brought it thrashing out of the water.

When I left, I felt happy. Nothing outrageous happened; I was pleased that I’d had a conversation with someone I’d never met before. It just felt good to connect with someone new, even if only for 10 minutes with someone I’d likely never talk to again.


It’s easy to get into the habit of only ever interacting with the same few people, telling ourselves that we don’t need anything more. I’ve got a few friends, why bother spending any time with anyone new?  

It’s great to have close friends, and it’s true that we don’t need loads of them. But I’m discovering the power of spending a little time with people I don’t know. It’s easy to write people off and not invest in them if we can’t see ourselves being best friends forever.

Actually, by not regularly chatting with people outside of the usual relationships I think that we miss out on a lot. We are designed to be part of a community, to have interactions with all kinds of people on different levels of relationship.

Neglecting this need for interaction causes us to become inward looking, consumed by our own agendas, needs and wants. To look outward and invest time in people when there is little obvious to gain, helps to set us free from the prison of ourselves. It’s very releasing to stop being strategic about who we talk to – in terms of what we can get out of it. We are designed to give out everyday, so when we give time and words to people, we become more our true selves, becoming happier and more peaceful.

The world is literally built on relationships – everything happens because of people and the connections between them. Learning to relate to all kinds of people well has got to be a wise thing to do if we ever want to achieve anything significant. When all the doors are locked and we think there’s no way forward in a situation, it may just be a relationship with one person that can be the key to unlocking your future.

Taking time to chat to strangers enriches our lives. It’s amazing what effect these little, seemingly insignificant encounters are having on my day. It’s a big privilege to step into someone else’s world for just a moment.

So, why not join me? I’m challenging myself to start a conversation with one person I’ve never spoken to before, every day for seven days, starting today. Fancy doing the same? For some this will be difficult – but I think you will be surprised by the satisfaction and fun you’ll get out of it. If it goes horribly wrong at least you’ll have a story to tell!

If you’re in, let us know in the comments below.

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  • Kate Harpum

    Hey Tom what a great post. Really pleased your enjoying your challenge, it’s such a goof thing to do. I am one of people that finds it very easy, but there are days when I hope no one will talk to me because I feel ‘low’ or like I have nothing to say. Amazingly if I do get chatting, even though I thought I didn’t want to, I always leave feeling better. Thanks Tom keep the posts coming!

    • Hi Kate, thanks so much for the encouragement!