Your Acquaintances Are More Important Than You Think! (Even if They’re Not Friends)

acquaintance helping senior with her shopping

Often when we use the word “acquaintance,” we’re essentially describing a second-rate friend—we use the word in a negative sense. We tend to view these brief interchanges, with the barista at the local coffee shop or the neighbor you see walking their dog, as throwaway interactions. But what if these “casual” interactions are not a waste at all?

An article in the New York Times reminded me of the value of these relationships. There are benefits to acquaintances — these connections can provide us with a more diverse worldview, involve us in our communities, increase life satisfaction, and so much more! While it is true that we tend to find more immediate chemistry with those who are similar to us, casual acquaintances give us a chance to broaden our perspective in life. You are content with seeing each other at whatever activity you share. Yet, if at some point you wish to develop the friendship, you’ve already built a foundation.

How to cultivate these relationships

So, you’re convinced that acquaintances really can improve your quality of life. The question is: How can you encourage these relationships?

Shift your attitude

Give yourself permission to talk to people. There are many places to strike up a conversation such as standing in line for coffee or waiting downtown to cross the street. Even if it’s only a brief conversation, the effort is usually worth it. While it’s probably easier to engage in conversation with familiar faces, don’t be afraid to engage with total strangers—remember, every one of your best friends was once a stranger!

Imitate an expert

We all know someone who’s a wizard at starting conversations. Remember even the most socially cognizant person once had to hone their skills. Observe how they initiate interactions? Do they use humor, offer a compliment or an observation? What questions do they ask? What is their body language communicating?  

Make it meaningful

While a brief conversation about the weather is fine, you can spice up the conversation by finding a shared interest or life experience to talk about. A great conversation with just about anyone is possible.

Your Optimism Challenge:

Next time you go out —whether you’re going to the store, on a walk, or heading to the YMCA—try striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know. Set a goal to chat with a new person every day. Introverts you might want to pretend you are an extrovert.

As always, I appreciate your feedback, questions or comments you share with me at

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