In The Company of Random Strangers

Believe it or not random strangers have an impact on our lives, more particularly, on how we behave.
This is because we tend to be more self-conscious when we are around strangers, leading us to either be more guarded in what we say or do or even avoiding a situation all together.
This can be especially true when we hit mid-life. We can be a little more unsure of ourselves as changes in our lives happen and we attempt new things.
Have you ever been on a training course or started an evening class where nobody really knows each other? There is always that moment when the tutor fist asks the class a question and everyone looks around, afraid to answer in case they make a fool of themselves. Or, perhaps, you have put of doing something, like going to the gym, because you are worried about what other people may think of you.
We tend to be more like this the more distant our relationship from people. With family and close friends will be a lot more comfortable and freer in how we behave, with work colleagues or acquaintances we will be somewhat guarded and a little conscious of how we are behaving but with strangers we will be a lot more self-conscious.
The ironic thing is we tend to over-estimate the amount of attention other people are giving us meaning we need be less self-conscious when we are around strangers. It is something known as the spotlight effect.


What we humans tend to notice most is difference and we are most likely to spot difference in people we are closer to. If, for example, I, with my receding hairline, we to suddenly start wearing an elaborate toupee, those people I see regularly would certainly notice it (and comment on it!). However people I don’t know would not know what I looked like without it and therefore pay less attention. The may see a random stranger wearing a toupee and have a smirk to themselves but they would soon forget about it.
And, just as you are busy worrying about what other people think, so are they and therefore not really noticing things that others around them are doing.
If we go back to the classroom example, one brave soul answers the tutor but gives the wrong answer, they will probably be thinking “everyone else probably thinks I am stupid” whereas everyone else is more likely to be thinking “thank God that wasn’t me”!
If you are self-conscious about your body and reluctant to go to the gym, remember that most other people there are focussing on what they are doing and their own self-conscious thoughts not leaving time for studying anyone else (and if you have ever been to a gym you will know there is a certain percentage of people far too busy looking at themselves and hoping others will be looking at them too!)
So never be put off doing something or be overly self-conscious when you are in the company of strangers.
If you are putting of doing something because of this then recruit a friend to go with you if possible (there is safety in numbers!), if they can’t go with you simply speak to them about your fears, going into a new situation just knowing you have supportive friends and family waiting for you at home can alleviate some of the worries.
Always keep in mind that others are feeling, to some degree or another, the same as you. They are worried more about what you are thinking of them and by recognising that in others it is easier to build a rapport and make the situation a little easier for you all.
The company of random strangers immediately sets off our self-consciousness but armed with the knowledge that those random strangers are actually more focussed on their own self-consciousness, rather than critically assessing us, we can move forward with more confidence.

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