Every day, you meet a number of strangers – from the cab driver to the grocery guy to the woman who makes your latte. Most of the time, you hardly have any conversation with them. You might be so wary of talking to people you don’t know that you barely acknowledge their presence.
It’s natural to clam up and feel a little awkward around strangers and new people. But what you need to remember is that all the people you know today would have been strangers to you at some point in time.
Strangers come with an opportunity to let you learn something new, tell you stories that you have never heard before, inspire you and explore their part of the world. Sometimes, they open doors to unexpected opportunities in your career and life.
So, how do you establish a connection with people, when crossing the barrier from being awkward around people you hardly know to making new friends seems like a big leap to you?
It’s not rocket science. The art of striking up a conversation with new people can be mastered with practice. Add to that a few of these techniques and you’ve got a surefire formula to succeed.
- Be presentable. Avoid going out in public without bathing or cleaning yourself up. You don’t want people to remember you for your smell. Looking presentable makes you more approachable. When you look good, you feel good and comfortable in your skin. That in itself raises your confidence to start a conversation.
- Stay up-to-date with current affairs. Keep yourself informed of news and events around the world. Discussing current affairs is one of the best ways to ensure interesting conversations. It can come in handy when you are in need of a conversation starter.
- Be courteous. Practice courtesies when you meet someone new. Everyone appreciates good manners. Smile and give a firm handshake. Say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ whenever possible.
- Look for opportunities to meet people. Be open to meeting new people whenever possible. Attend social events and take advantage of opportunities to socialize. You cannot meet people if you keep yourself confined in your office or home all day.
- Make new friends. Think back to how you made the friends you have now. It was natural right? Something that was effortless and came easily. Be yourself and when you approach a new person, see it as an opportunity to make a new friend.
- Be genuine. Your body language generally reveals your state of mind. So, be genuine in your approach. Putting on a false front to have a successful conversation will backfire most of the time. People generally sense your intentions. So, just be yourself and start a conversation with someone new.
- Look for nonverbal cues. If you look for nonverbal cues like eye contact, posture and hand movements of the person with whom you are talking, you will be able to gauge how the person is feeling. If the person seems uncomfortable in the conversation, shift gears. If you think the person is not interested in talking, then take it as a hint to not take the conversation forward.
- Weave in stories. Share interesting stories or experiences from your life to captivate and involve people in your conversation. Your stories will help people relate to you and build rapport. Sharing things about your life make you more approachable.
- Greet people with an open-ended question. Start conversations with a question like, ‘How’s your day going?’ When you start with such a question, it prompts people to answer verbally rather than smiling or simply nodding. Some people may start talking in detail about their day. Let them do most of the talking. Nothing can kill a conversation like asking something that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
- Ask for details. Most of the time, conversations with strangers remain limited to just basic topics, which tends to be boring and can turn into a conversation stopper. Instead, ask for details. Ask personal questions like, ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘Do you like this place?’ Be genuinely interested in getting to know the person, and you won’t have to make much of an effort to come up with questions.
- Be an active listener. Too often when meeting someone new, people have a tendency to talk just to fill the awkward pauses in a conversation. This may bore and drive away the other person. Avoid that habit. Listen intently. Be whole-heartedly present in the conversation. When you listen carefully, you’ll learn more about the person’s life, interests and hobbies. The more actively you listen in a conversation, the more it will help you to start a conversation when your meet the person again.
- Talk about something you have in common. While listening to someone, try to identify things that you have in common. Building a rapport around a common interest can be an important foundation for any relationship.
- Be helpful. Your goal should be to help the person. If someone is new to your area and they are a pasta lover, you can help them by telling them where they can find the best pasta in the city. People usually open up and start sharing details when they sense that your motivation is purely to help them.
- Restate what you heard. Restating what you think you heard allows you to clarify what the person has told you and to understand them fully. It also shows the other person that you were actively listening to them.
- Request a favor. This may sound a little cliché,but most of the time it works. Asking for simple requests can be a great conversation starter. Requests like, ‘Do you have change for a dollar?’ or ‘Can you tell me the best place to get coffee here?’ can break the ice and make people talk to you.
- Give them a unique compliment. People may forget your words, but they are unlikely to forget how you made them feel. Give a unique but genuine compliment when you meet someone new. People can be immune to certain words. For instance: If someone is beautiful, they might be immune to the words ‘beautiful’, ‘gorgeous’ or ‘pretty’. Avoid stating the obvious. Instead, try saying ‘I like the way you smile with your eyes.’ The compliment should be something that would be hard for them to forget.
- Ask for opinions. Everybody loves giving opinions. Ask for opinions on something generic. This can be a great conversation starter that will encourage people to open up and talk. Ask things like, ‘What genres of movies do you like watching and why?’
- Be open to debate. Don’t assume that people will agree with you on every subject. Say you are opposed to changes in your neighborhood or workplace, or you have an inclination toward a particular political party, you may conclude that the person you are talking to will feel the same and agree with you. But remember, everyone’s entitled to their own opinions and debates make conversation enjoyable and even enlightening.
- Be willing to learn from others. Talking to a new person can give you a new perspective. They can offer you interesting insights and knowledge about other religions, cultures and nations. Or you may learn new ways of doing things in your occupational field. If you show genuine interest, people will open up to you and the conversation can actually leave you enriched.
- Remember things about people. Try to remember little details about the person with whom you are talking. Beyond remembering their name, remember things about their family, their last vacation, places they wish to visit, their profession and so on. If you remember little details, the next time you see them you won’t have to struggle to find things to talk about.
- Don’t feel bad if people don’t remember you. If you are meeting someone you’ve met before and that person doesn’t remember you, don’t feel bad about it. Reintroduce yourself, reminding them what you both have in common or where you first met. This can be a great conversation starter and also help them remember you in the future.
- Avoid being judgmental. You may be tempted to judge the person on the basis of what you hear and see. But avoid judging people. If you start judging them, they will sense it and it will make them self-conscious. It will surely end your conversation and make you less approachable in the future.
- Avoid eating alone whenever possible. While there is nothing wrong in enjoying yourself alone, when in a social setting, avoid eating all by yourself. When you are at a party where you hardly know anyone, you may have a tendency to go to a corner and start eating alone. Meals and hors d'oeuvres are great conversation starters. So instead, try to find someone who might be looking for company while having their dinner at party. Force yourself to sit down with them and start interacting.
- Make an effort to be in situations where you get to meet new people. When you get an opportunity, go to social events and meet new people. It will help you practice your conversation skills. Strike up a conversation when you see a new person – a new colleague or a new neighbor.
- Be persistent. Sometimes, you end up meeting people with whom you just cannot connect or with whom things did not go quite well. Don’t let that incident deter you from connecting with or meeting new people. Don’t get discouraged by one setback.