Talking To Strangers: Take-off

“This is your captain speaking. Welcome aboard flight 777. In a few moments we will be taxiing to the runway and will be taking off shortly. Make sure your seatbacks are up, tray-tables are folded, and seatbelts secure. This flight will get bumpy from time-to-time, but no worries. At least you’re not flying the plane.”

Starting and ending the conversation is much like taking off and landing a plane. They are both the hardest, most nerve-racking times in flying.

For most of us its as scary as flying in and out of Toncontin International Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras like I have. This airport is one of the most dangerous and deadly, narrowly clipping the mountainside. It’s so dangerous that it takes special pilots and training to be able to do it. It’s so scary that when our short-term-missions team arrived and our wheels touched the tarmac, people in the cabin start cheering and praising God, thanking Him for sparing their lives.

One of the main reasons people don’t talk to strangers is that they don’t know how to start the conversation and keep it going. Over the years I have taken some tips from different people and incorporated them into my everyday life. The A.R.E. method is just one of the many tools I remember when situations come up.

The A.R.E. Method

by Carol Flemming

Throughout the years there have been many different techniques on how to start a conversation with a stranger. The A.R.E. Method of starting a conversation was a simplified view of some of the most notable efforts. Created by communications expert, Carol Flemming, it involves three main aspects. Anchor, Reveal and Encourage.


In order to start a conversation, you and the other person need a connection between the two of you. This is an observation of a mutual shared reality with the other person. When you want to talk to someone in your vicinity, look for something you are both seeing or experiencing. Possibilities are:

  • A band that is playing close by.
  • You both are Jurors on the same trial.
  • A strange looking dog that walked by.
  • A book they are reading. Maybe you actually read the same book.
  • Food that you both are experiencing individually. Maybe an ice cream cone, Iowa State Fair turkey leg, or just a simple soda.

If you are having difficulty trying to come up with something in the moment, use your senses and ask yourself:

  • “What do I see right now?”
  • “What am I hearing at this moment?”
  • “What do I smell in the air? Food, campfire, the summer night air?”
  • “What do I feel? The cold night air, the warmth of the sun, the rain hitting my skin?”
  • “What do I taste? Am I eating anything? What am I hungry for?”

I once was in a local mall trying to start up conversations using a million dollar bill tract. I was getting nowhere. I stopped and used the A.R.E. method. In that moment, I saw a young man with a tattoo on the back of his neck that looked like a digital alarm clock. I approached him and said how much I find tattoos fascinating. I asked him what the time meant on the back of his neck. He said, “It was the exact time my best friend committed suicide.” We had a great and humbling conversation about eternity.


Next, reveal something about yourself that is related to your anchor. By opening up a little more, you extend to the other person a few more threads of connection and trust. This also provides them information in which to respond.

“Oh you took ballet in college. Des Moines is a very eclectic city. I love going to the opera here.”

“You must try this restaurant in the city called, Bubba’s. It’s my favorite.”

“I took painting in college. I wasn’t very good, but the class was interesting.”

The reveal portion is more for keeping a conversation going rather than starting one. Occasionally just commenting on your surroundings and revealing something about yourself is a great way to start a conversation. If you are in a pet store and someone stands next to you, you can say, “Isn’t he cute? I had a cat like that once. His name was Stinky.” You never want to start a conversation by saying, “Can I ask you a question?” Most people will say, “no” and walk away — if they say anything at all.


A sure-fire way to make a person feel good and smile is to notice them. People love to be noticed, especially those who feel that they are insignificant in the world. Encouraging people and those around us is a huge part of loving our neighbor as ourselves. We as humans love when people encourage us. It not only makes us feel good about ourselves, but also reinforces different things about us. This can be displayed as several parts.


One of the best ways to ask a question is to tie a complement and a question together. Complementing others is not just a way to get into a conversation, but it helps us not to focus on ourselves. It gives us the freedom to genuinely see others without our selfishness getting in the way. When using this technique it is best to stick with three types.

Style, whether it be jewelry, an article of clothing or even a tattoo. People wear things to be seen and noticed. Complementing them on their style reinforces their decision-making and really makes people feel good.

“That is a super-cute blouse and you wear it well. Did you pick that out yourself of was it a gift?”

“I love that tie. Looks very nice on you. Where did you get it?”

“That is an awesome tattoo. So detailed and classy. Did you design it yourself?”

Accomplishment. Congratulating a person on an accomplishment reinforces their ego a little, and helps them to be noticed especially when those around them don’t seem to care.

“Congratulations on the promotion. What do you think was the thing that put you over the top?”

“Wow, you look fantastic. What is your secret to staying fit?”

“You have a B.A. in Engineering? That must have been tough. You must be really good at math.”

Good behavior. Letting a person know they made the right decision is an important element to complementing and encouragement. Sometimes when things happen rather quickly, it’s good to know that you did the best you could and to hear that from others.

“It was really cool how you handled that [situation]. How did you stay so calm?”

“I love how you disciplined your son. How do you do it and encourage him at the same time like that?”

“You’re so patient especially when he was rude to you. What is your secret?”

Lend a Helping Hand. Encouraging others also comes in the form of lending a helping hand when needed. When using this form of encouragement, it is really important to be aware of what people are doing. You may need to spend some time people watching and discerning what is needed. Some of my best conversations come from giving aid to those around me.

Here are some ways I like to help others to get my foot in the door of a conversation:

  • Struggling Selfies. Sometimes when I am at an attraction with lots of people, there are those who are struggling to take selfies, especially with couples or groups. I like to offer my services to take the photo for them. Most of the time people are handing me all their phones and glad for me to take them. Other times people are reluctant, in which I use humor and say, “If you’re worried about me stealing this, I think you can catch me. I’m really big, and really slow.” Or, “My wife says I take the best pictures. Want to prove her wrong?” If they still say no, I just wish them a good day and move on without hurt feelings. I also like to use humor in the shot. After I take the pictures needed, I will move closer and closer to someone who is smiling to the point where it is obvious I can’t make the shot. We all get a good laugh and after the pictures are done I like to ask them where they are from or if they have any questions about the area like good restaurants or entertainment nearby. The best part is that if someone else who is struggling and sees your helpfulness, they will be happy to fork over their phones as well. I use this many times in front of murals at the Pella Tulip Time Festival in Pella, IA. Normally I will have a line of people waiting for me to help them, and I can easily give out 20 tracts at once in a matter of minutes. I always strive for the extended conversation, but tracts are a good way to give them something to think about.
  • Information Booth. When I am in the downtown area, or at an event, I notice people sometimes look lost, or if they are in a group trying to figure out were to go to eat, see, or do. I then gently say to someone in the group, “Not trying to impose, but I noticed that you seem a little puzzled about the area. I’m from around here. Is there anything I can help you find.” Depending on the pride level of the person you are asking, they will either say yes or no. But this is a great opportunity to then ask where they are from, what type of food they like and so on. The sky is the limit to the amount of conversation you can have. But just remember they have places to go and probably won’t stick around for a lengthy conversation. This is a great place to introduce the Gospel of John, a tract, or a Gideon Bible.
  • Just Plain Help. I’ve been there numerous times to just help others in need and literally lend a hand. True story, one time I was at the Post Office and a baby slipped out of the blanket from her mother’s arm and was headed for the ground. Instincts kicked in and I reached down and grabbed the child right before her head hit the concrete floor. I just so happened to be at the right place at just the right time. What do you think I did next? Do you think she would listen to anything I had to say since I saved her baby from sudden death or traumatic brain injury? You bet! After catching my breath I shared the gospel.

The sky is the limit when helping someone in need. The key is to be able to pick up on the needs around you and follow through with it. You have to discern quickly, and be ready to jump in at the right time.

Since this is a spiritual blog, and the purposes of starting a conversation is to share the gospel with another person, all these methods are great ways to lead into spiritual conversations or to offer tracts or Gospels of John. Following up a great conversation with something spiritually tangible is a great way to end on a good note. Especially when it comes to lending a hand. You can end with:

“Let me give you a gift, and welcome to the neighborhood. It’s a gospel of John, and I would like you to have it.”

“I really enjoyed our conversation. I’d like to give you this gift and when you get a minute please take a look at it and consider what it says.”

“I hope you find what you’re looking for. By the way, here is something else to help you on your way through life….[and hand them a Gideon New Testament].

If the time allows, and they ask you what it is, further explain it and many times people are really curious to know more.

Try to apply some of these principles as you go about your day. If you are still fearful about reaching out and talking to others, simply see a situation, and muse about it in your own mind. Think about how you would approach a person in a certain situation. Imagine having a good conversation with that person. How would you approach? What would you say? What anchors or things can you use to start the ball rolling. As you go on and meditate on these things, you will find it’s not as difficult as it seems. Just think, maybe you are exactly what that other person needs today. Brighten someones day and talk with them.

In the next series installment, Talking to Strangers: Cruising Altitude, we will be free to move about the cabin and learn even more suggestions to keep the conversation going.

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