Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lessons from a Stranger

Hi Everyone,   
This isn't an interview post. This is something that I've been mulling over in my mind for a while, but I didn't exactly know how to convey. It's a conversation that would go well with a hot cup of tea because it drifts like one between long time friends who haven't seen each other in awhile. I'd like to make these "Lessons from a Stranger" posts occasionally as reflections. They might be regarding someone specific or simply something beyond the scope of a normal interview. The lessons might also be vague and not really related to any particular person we have spoken to - they'll be general reflections of speaking to complete strangers and what I've learned from them.  
It's incredibly hard to speak to a stranger.  
There is something about going up to someone that is really nerve-wracking. I don't know how many times Mariam and I will see someone who looks so comfortable in their skin and almost magnetizing and we know we have to interview them. Instead of making sure we get as much time to talk to them and take photos, we play hot potato with the interview notebook. At the same time, we're whisper-yelling, "you go talk to him." "No, I did the last person. You do this one." "Okay, fine, but you have to do the next two people!" 
Even though this person is a complete stranger and knows nothing about me, I get anxious saying, "Hi, my name is Mohanned. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?" I think it's because deep down, I know that the quality of the interview, really the connection I make with this person, is related to how much of myself I put out there. The more I stick my neck out, the more of myself that I trust this person with, the more they'll trust me and tell me a great story. The story goes from a benign series  of events to an insightful revelation. You can even see the emotion of the person recollecting the story on their faces and in their body language. 
Even after interviewing over 50 people for the blog, I feel like I'm still anxious about talking to strangers. I have an internal debate about asking for directions when I'm lost. Likewise, I'm unsure whether to complement people on their style when I like it, whether to tell them I appreciate the way they carry themselves in a place where it's easy to go unnoticed... I never know whether I should make an effort to tell someone I noticed them. 
What do you think? How do you feel talking to strangers? How do you get over your anxiety of talking to people you don't know? Does it get easier? We'd love to hear your stories in the comments below! 

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