The Surprising Benefits Of Talking To Your Starbucks Barista

Have you ever ridden the elevator in your apartment building or at your office with a friendly stranger? Maybe they asked you about your day and offered you helpful information about a new eatery that's opened next door. You probably got off at your floor feeling surprisingly refreshed and happy. The memorable encounter may even have left you wondering if you should try being as open with others you meet on a daily basis.


Sociologist Mark Granovetter called them "weak ties," while researcher and psychology professor Gillian Sandstrom simply referred to this type of encounter as "talking to strangers," per BBC. However, the fundamental interest both of them had was in the often undervalued power of small connections. The world can be a scary place, and we're taught as children to avoid strangers at all costs. While this is sage advice for kids, we could be missing out if we still abide by this rule well into adulthood. 

Perhaps it's not the childhood mantra we had drummed into us but our own social anxiety that keeps us from striking up a conversation with the Starbucks barista these days. What if we say the wrong thing and make a fool of ourselves? Would we make them feel uncomfortable? What if the other person responds negatively? 


You might be surprised to know that just as pursuing a hobby can have surprising benefits for your health, talking to strangers can be good for your mental well-being and overall happiness levels too. Here's why. 

You feel like you belong and you grow as a person

Much has been said about the importance of cultivating meaningful relationships with family members and friends. And while these connections are undoubtedly valuable, we often overlook the more easily available opportunities for interaction in our daily lives, whether it be striking up a conversation with the barista at the coffee shop in the morning or even saying hello to our neighbors. 


There is a lot that happens when we leave our comfort zones and talk to someone we meet at Starbucks, and the first of which is exactly that: leaving our comfort zone. Personal growth usually happens in a place of discomfort, and this is one thing talking to strangers could do for us (via LinkedIn). It's also a great way to break out of the echo chambers we naturally create for ourselves with people who think and behave as we do. We're bound to pick up something new, if not become aware of a fresh perspective. 

Sociology professor Mark Granovetter found that casual connections offered new career opportunities for people, reports BBC. Meanwhile, psychology professor Gillian Sandstrom noted the positive effect of small interactions following her own conversations with a woman selling hot dogs that left her with a true sense of belonging, per Hidden Brain. Such experiences might even result in new friends or better communication skills, per LinkedIn. Plus, the benefits of small connections are often mutual between you and the person with whom you decide to chat.


Talking to strangers: how to get started

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, in which psychology professor Gillian Sandstrom was also involved, sought to address the often "overblown" concerns people had about casual conversations with strangers. If you want to become someone like the friendly neighbor in the elevator, you can start off by really focusing on the places you frequent in a week — the gym, the local supermarket, or maybe even the lobby of your apartment building, per Lifehacker. It might be surprising to realize how many other people come there just as often. Notice the familiar faces around you and ask them about their day. With time, these faces will become more than just blurry visuals you pass by each day. 


Having a goal before you approach someone and being kind and respectful during the conversation are important guidelines to follow (via Sprouht). People are often very friendly, and the mutual exchange can make you both feel happier as you go about your day. That being said, if you do feel like you're making the other person uncomfortable in any way, be mindful of that, reports Lifehacker. 

Talking to just about anyone requires some practice just like everything else in life, but you'll be happier for having invested in the small connections that we so often miss. The benefits outweigh the initial nervousness.