9 Rules for Talking to Strangers

Improve communication without being a creep

Eric Sangerma
Published in
7 min readSep 10, 2020


Photo by Jopwell from Pexels

When you were a kid, did your parents tell you not to talk to strangers?

Too many people hold on to that advice long after it stops being useful.

I loved staying indoors with my family for a few months during quarantine. But since we’re out of lockdown (for now), and I’m spending more time outside, I’m noticing that my perception of strangers has changed.

Studies show that even a short conversation with a stranger will improve your mood (Sandstrom & Dunn, 2013). And to be clear, this very much includes meaningless small talk.

But there are right and wrong ways to do it. This isn’t something we learn at school — understandably! — and lots of people don’t know how to start.

So if you’re hoping to try your hand at something new and start talking to strangers more often, here are some guidelines for you.

1. Only talk to people who want to talk to you.

This one should be obvious, right?

Unfortunately, lots of people fail Step One. They think their job is to convince the other person that they want to have a conversation.

That’s not how this works! If someone is sending clear signals that they don’t want to talk, you should respect it. Even if you think you know better, even if you’re really bored or eager to meet them.

Some of the ways people may be telling you to back off:

  • They’re using earphones/headphones
  • You can’t make eye contact with them or they’re persistently looking at something else (or keeping their eyes closed, if this is a public transit situation)
  • Their body language is closed off: arms crossed, hands hidden

I also advise caution if the person you want to talk to looks angry, nervous, exhausted, or otherwise not in the mood for a chat. Pay attention to those signals. Chances are that they just want to be left alone.

On the other hand, you could make someone’s shitty day a little better — there’s a chance that talking to you will help because it’s easier to confide in strangers.



Eric Sangerma

I Help Companies Excel and Individuals Thrive. I write about Mental Health, Relationships and Productivity. Follow me: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericsangerma/