Do you feel awkward when you have to talk to someone you don’t know? You’re not alone. Many people experience the same thing.
Living in an extrovert-oriented world can be challenging for people who prefer to keep to themselves. We’re bombarded with messages that tell us we need to be outgoing and social to be happy and prosperous.
It’s easy to think that the most outgoing person you know is naturally wired that way and that you could never be like them. The good news is, you can learn how to enjoy talking to strangers just like they do. Here are some simple tips to help you talk to strangers and make a stranger talk to you.
1. Use Positive Body Language
Opinions about the importance of body language vary widely. The theory that body language communicates just as much as verbal communication has received both praise and critiques. Despite the uncertainty surrounding this social psychology concept, it won’t hurt to pick up a few things about reading and analyzing body language.
Non-verbal communication plays a massive role in establishing connections with friends, family members, and strangers. Experts believe effective communication is 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal. Because of this, it is crucial to be aware of the message you are conveying with your body.
Positive body language, such as eye contact, smiling, maintaining an open posture, and slightly leaning in, conveys interest, approachability, and friendliness. On the other hand, negative body language, such as crossing your arms, looking down, or slouching, communicates disinterest and lack of confidence.
2. Recognize Stay-Away Signals
Self-awareness is crucial in establishing a connection with a total stranger. At the same time, awareness of other people’s body language and your surroundings is also necessary to avoid awkward situations.
Communication is a two-party effort. If the other party refuses to interact or return the same energy you exert, communication won’t work. A person’s refusal to interact doesn’t necessarily equate to rudeness, sometimes they simply don’t want to have a conversation at that time.
Because of this, it’s vital to approach people who are open to conversation. Look for “stay-away signals” such as crossed arms, turned-away feet, and a lack of eye contact. It is best to respect the other person’s personal space and avoid talking to them if they look like they don’t want to be approached.
3. Break the Ice
If you find someone you want to initiate a friendly conversation with, the next step is to break the ice. Approaching a total stranger may be intimidating, but it’ll be worth it once you’ve started a great conversation.
One way to break the ice is to comment on your surroundings. You can ask the person next to you about something you know you have in common, like the event you’re both attending or the food you’re eating.
The most important thing you should do is smile. Don’t underestimate the power of a genuine and inviting smile. Psychology experts believe that smiling at strangers creates a “ripple effect.” Smiling makes the other person feel good, and in turn, they will also smile back at you.
4. Acknowledge Your Emotions
Nervousness is a normal emotion when you’re about to talk to a stranger. After all, it’s not every day that you go out of your way to speak with someone you don’t know.
The key is to acknowledge your emotions, take deep breaths, and focus on the conversation. As you keep a conversation going, the feeling of nervousness will start to dissipate.
If you’re having trouble maintaining a conversation because of nervousness, try an acting approach created by the renowned Russian actor, coach, and director, Constantin Stanislavsky. This approach is called “Method Acting.”
The principle behind Method Acting is to “make yourself believe.” A key technique to this approach is to draw emotion from memory when you felt confident or create an “emotional memory” of confidence. Using those feelings of confidence, you can appear confident and well-spoken in the conversation you’re having.
5. Ask Open-Ended Questions
The best way to keep a conversation going is by asking open-ended questions. Asking simple “yes” or “no” questions can quickly shorten the conversation. Open-ended questions encourage the other person to elaborate and share more information about themselves.
People love to talk about themselves. Ask them questions about their lives and interests. This is a great opportunity to get to know the other person better and make both of you feel more at ease. You can share your opinions as well to avoid making the conversation feel like an interview. Then, just listen attentively to what the other person says. That’s all there is to it!
6. Compliment Something About the Other Person
One way to make friends with a stranger is to complement them and boost their confidence. People love receiving substantial compliments. You can give a sincere compliment about their physical appearance, choice of clothing, or even their smile.
Just make sure that your compliments are genuine and not given with any ulterior motive. The key is to place your praises naturally so that they won’t sound forced or fake.
7. Maintain Friendly Eye Contact
When you’re engaged in discussion with someone, it’s important to maintain eye contact. Eye contact shows that you’re interested and focused on the discussion, and also helps forge trust between you and the other person.
When trying to build a connection with a person you don’t know, it’s crucial to maintain eye contact 50% to 70% during the conversation. Focused yet friendly eye contact will make the other person feel comfortable with you.
8. Try To Steer Away From Controversial Topics
Although it’s tempting to dive right in and discuss controversial topics such as politics and religion with a stranger, it may not be the best idea. These types of discussions can quickly escalate into an argument and leave both parties feeling uncomfortable, especially when they don’t know one another well.
Instead, you can talk about exciting yet positive topics such as shared interests, pop culture news, or hobbies. These discussion topics will help you get to know the other person better without creating any tension.
Conversations are two-way streets, with both parties actively participating. Just like you can ask the other person something about themself, you can also share things about yourself.
While you don’t have to share anything deeply personal, you also don’t have to be afraid to open up and convey your thoughts and feelings, either. As you share your own stories, the other person will also feel more comfortable sharing theirs with you.
It’s alright if you want to leave out some personal details about your life. Just make sure that you’re still able to contribute to the conversation by sharing other information such as your opinions, interests, or experiences instead of just nodding and asking questions.
10. Listen To Understand
When initiating a conversation with anyone, you must listen attentively to what they are saying. Listen not with the purpose of responding but with the intention to understand.
Customer service representatives use active listening skills to understand the needs of their customers and quickly build rapport with their callers. You can pick up the same technique when making friends with a complete stranger.
Active listening involves not just hearing the words that the other person is saying but also comprehending the message they’re trying to communicate. You can show that you’re actively listening by maintaining eye contact, responding promptly, and repeating what the other person has said.
If you’re looking to make more friends or build a stronger network, start using these tips to improve your conversational skills. With a bit of practice, talking to strangers is a piece of cake.