Green and white stickers once adorned letterboxes across a community; they represented a Neighbourhood Watch (NHW) ‘safe house’. If your letterbox had one of these stickers you were considered a safe house for children in need on their way home from school.
They were a fantastic idea back in the day when kids were walking home from school; should they come into trouble they had somewhere to go for help.
Not only did we have NHW, but we were also schooled about ‘stranger danger’: ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ was the motto of choice, and no doubt there is an ongoing sentiment that exists today for kids.
The problem is I love to talk to strangers, and through example encourage my kids to speak with strangers on a daily basis. I’m chatting with the guy at the coffee shop, the cashier at Woolworths – I’m even ‘one of those people’ who will pay a compliment to a random walking down the street. I’ve made new friends through the kids playing at the park, and of course my work leads me to speak with thousands of strangers each year.
My daughters, however, have begun to chastise me for such communication. Under her breath my eldest whispered to me on the bus recently, “Mum, you shouldn’t talk to that man – he’s a stranger”. And I was hit with the realisation that, with obvious intent, I’ve been teaching my kids not to speak to anyone they don’t know.
Now we’ve hit an era where we not only need to be able to speak with strangers, but communicate with them online too!
But life isn’t possible if we don’t talk to strangers. How would we all function? In some of my thinking time, this ‘stranger danger’ anecdote led me to wonder how this ingrained lesson impacted the working life of the real estate agents I coach. I wondered how many people live with an unconscious fear that something bad will happen if they talk to people they don’t know.
Now we’ve hit an era where we not only need to be able to speak with strangers, but communicate with them online too! Decoding who people are, what they want, and whether we should embrace them or be wary has been taken to a whole other level. Unpacking your relationship to speaking with strangers may provide some insights into how you feel about picking up the phone, prospecting for clients or even dealing with new ones. Perhaps a stranger is not a danger; it’s a friend we haven’t met yet?
On the flip side of ‘stranger danger’, I wonder if we have become more complacent. I have no doubt that most businesses have a heightened awareness of the potential personal risks in our interactions with the public; however, have we dropped our guard when it comes to how we manage this risk day to day? Do we think, ‘She’ll be right; it won’t happen to us’?
As I recorded Transform’s self-defence session I recalled that all of our ‘analogue’ methods for managing people movement (the in/out board), or the safety word when calling into the office, have gone unmentioned for some time – and with the lack of communication I wonder if so too have the practices. Are you long overdue to invoke your ‘safety policies’ to maintain security in your office? When was the last time you discussed the safety of your team?
At our place, whilst we haven’t kiboshed ‘stranger danger’ completely, we are moving towards ‘tricky people’. We’re teaching the little people in our life that when Mum and Dad are around it’s okay to talk to strangers, but we all need to have our receptors in tune for ‘adults who play tricks on children’. I know a few adults who could do with a tuning of their receptors too!