Meeting strangers is an essential part of life. It’s inevitable and hard to escape. Conversing with strangers is one of the common ways to make new friends and improve your networking skills.
Most people feel anxious when meeting someone new. It’s usually due to concern about the other person’s opinion of you. Many people fear revealing things to a stranger because they’re worried about being judged.
Another concern is whether the person even wants to talk to you. But contrary to what you might think, people are usually friendly and open to talking to someone they just met.
Still, it can be uncomfortable and even difficult to approach a stranger. It takes some courage to walk up to someone you don’t know and start a conversation.
Here are a few tricks to help you talk to strangers with ease and even make a new friend.
- Just say hello. One of the most dreaded thing about talking to a stranger is the fear of what to say. Start with a simple ‘hi’ or ‘hello.’ It’ll break the ice and open the way for conversation.
- Smile and relax when you approach a stranger. When you are smiling, people will relax and warm up to you. A gentle smile makes you appear genuine and appealing.
- Imagine the person as your friend. You might have heard the saying - "Strangers are simply friends you haven’t met yet." Once you start a conversation with a stranger, you begin to find out about mutual interests or simply start enjoying their company. Every relationship for that matter begins with a conversation.
- Don’t go in with expectations. When you do not have any expectations, you won’t be disappointed or offended if people don’t respond to you. If you don’t expect any outcome, you can be in the present moment and do things accordingly.
- Stop worrying about what others think of you. Do not worry about what people think of you. Allow them to think what they want to, but never let it affect your courage to talk to strangers with ease.
- Push through your fear. One of the best ways to deal with the fear of talking to a stranger is to do it repeatedly. When you face your fear, you will become more powerful than the fear. As you continue to push through the fear, it will start feeling more natural. For instance, when you feel scared about approaching someone new, think of something to laugh about, and the situation will appear less scary.
- Visualize yourself calm and composed. Before you approach any new person, visualize yourself in the situation. Train your mind to think of yourself as confident, friendly and relaxed. This will help you relax and the more relaxed you become, the more self-confident you will be.
- Put down your phone or other devices. Phones, tablets, and readers are all a hindrance to having a conversation. Avoid the urge to take out your phone when you have to wait in line at a store or sit in the waiting room in the hospital. Digital devices stop you from making connections and having chance encounters with people.
- Start small. If you get nervous approaching a stranger, warm up a bit first. Smile, make eye contact with the person and then say hi.
- Introduce yourself. Forget about conversations starters. Just go ahead and introduce yourself. Respond when the other person does the same.
- Use their name a few times. Once you learn the person’s name, try to use it a couple of times in the conversation. When you say their name, people will feel more connected and friendly toward you. For instance, “Carla, what do you do in your leisure time?”
- Look for similarities and common interests. When talking with a stranger, look for similarities that you share. When people realize they have something in common, they tend to warm up to the other person more easily. Also, similarities can make your interaction feel effortless, and you don’t have to struggle for other topics to talk about. For instance, when approaching someone at an event, you can ask them, “I’m here for the first time. What about you?”
- Offer a compliment. If you see someone doing or wearing something interesting, compliment them on it. It can be a piece of jewelry, a pin, a tie, a tattoo or a great hairstyle.
Compliments can serve as an icebreaker to help start a conversation.
- Be curious about them. When you are curious about getting to know the other person, you naturally start asking questions. Just make sure not to be interrogating. Be gentle, not too probing. For instance, you can ask, “So how do you know the host of this party?” And tell them how you know the host.
- Be more animated. While talking, use your hands as much as possible. Emphasize your words with gestures, such as pointing your fingers, opening up your arms, etc. As you do this, it shows your enthusiasm and energy. The more animated you are in a conversation, the more positively people will respond to you. Don't go overboard with your body language and gestures.
- Have open body language. Body language is sometimes more powerful than words. Small gestures and stances can make a person like or dislike you. So, when you are talking to a stranger, keep your arms open, legs wide, and your torso and head pointed toward the person to whom you are talking. Make sure to maintain eye contact.
- Make the conversation about them. Show genuine interest in their life. Talk about their interests, ideas, and opinions. People love to talk about themselves. Ask questions about their life, and they will be interested in talking to you.
- If you find something that interests them, talk about it. When starting the conversation, if you see they are interested in a particular topic or subject, ask them more about it. This will help you take the conversation further. While talking about the city, if the person starts talking about Italian food and you find they are extremely interested in Italian cuisine, ask more about it.
- Use humor. Laughter makes people warm up to each other. Make the conversation fun and joyful. People generally love to talk to people who make them laugh. But let the humor flow naturally. Don’t force it. If you are not good at it, don’t try it.
- Don’t bore people with details. Holding a great conversation is also about not boring the person with unnecessary details. Don’t drown the conversation with excessive details about your children, your tussle with your neighbors, etc. If you notice them yawning, looking at their phone or just being disinterested in what you are talking about, change the topic. Tell them only what they need to know or something that you think will interest them.
- Talk about things that are meaningful to you. Talk about things that are close to your heart, things that you care about. When people talk about such things, they generally tend to talk about it with a lot of emotion. Most often, the person you are talking to will feel your emotions. Emotions make it more likely for people to open up themselves.
- Get out of your head. Sometimes when you are at an event or a gathering, instead of truly engaging with people, you might be busy having a conversation with yourself in your head. This prevents you from listening to the other person, and the person you are talking to will lose interest in the conversation.
- Be a good listener. Few people actually listen to others. Everyone is in a hurry to talk. Most of the time, when someone is talking, people are busy thinking about what they want to say next.
Listen intently when people are talking, and when you hear them talking about something interesting, you can comment or ask a more detailed question about it. This will help you take the conversation further.
- Don’t take things personally. If people do not show any interest in having a conversation with you, don’t take it personally. It’s usually not about you; it’s about them. Maybe you caught them at a wrong time, or they are just having a bad day.
- Don’t act pushy. Different people react differently. When talking to strangers, you may notice that some may be reserved, while others are more open. If you feel someone is not responding well or is not in a mood to talk, don’t pester them. Leave them alone.
- Practice as much as you can. Find opportunities to talk to strangers. Be it on the bus, the street, at an event or a restaurant – strike up a conversation with someone. Get used to the idea of talking to strangers. It may feel a little awkward at first, but the more you practice; the more you will get better at introducing yourself and conversing with people. Each conversation will teach you lessons you can work on.
Note: The content has been edited and reviewed by Angela Webb, Licensed Psychologist.