As kids we’re taught not to talk to strangers, but as an adult I find that approaching new people is an essential skill. The best way to go about it is practice, practice, practice.
Some people seem to rock this naturally. I’ve had lovely exchanges with strangers, ranging from a few seconds to several hours long.
Why talk to strangers:
- It might make their day.
- It might make your day.
- Everyone has stories.
- You never know how you’re going to meet your new best friend.
- We’re all just people anyway.
Some simple ways to ease in:
- Ask for a recommendation. When you’re not quite ready to order at a restaurant or coffee shop, ask the waiter or barista for a recommendation. Sometimes I feel a rush of panic when a server approaches and asks if I’m ready. Instead of going “UMMMM…”, say “I’m deciding between this and this…” and perhaps they can help you out.
- Comment on your surroundings. Chrystina Noel suggests mentioning something nearby:
- Compliment style choices. “I like your ___” is one of the best ways to start a conversation, whether on the street in passing, or at a party.
- Ask easy questions. “Is this this back of the queue?” “Where did you get that pizza?” People love to be helpful, and when I’m feeling shy, these questions are hard to ask. I have to remind myself that they’re easy to answer. Why should they be difficult to ask?
- Say thank you. If someone holds a door open, or steps aside to let you pass on the sidewalk, thank them with confidence. Sometimes we do the rush-y head nod thing, but it’s good to practice simple assertiveness.
- Sit in the front row. Whether in a class or at a small performance event, be brave and sit in the front. I get especially nervous doing this at comedy events, because audience participation, but remember that they’re the performer, you’re the audience member. It’s way more nerve-wrecking for them! All you have to do is choose a seat. A seat with a better view, usually.
- Make eye contact and smile. Don’t awkwardly avert your eyes. Make eye contact with confidence. Own it. Even if that’s as far as the exchange goes, it’s better than nothing.
How to respond to being approached:
- Add another thought. Maybe you’re on the receiving end of the compliment – lucky you! Someone was brave enough to approach you, and now you can go a step further. A smile and a thank you will do, but to continue the exchange, say “Thanks, I got it from ___” or “Thanks, I like your ____ too”.
- Be useful. When asked where I got the pizza in the box I was carrying, I remembered that I had taken a business card from the restaurant. I dug out the card to give out – better than saying “go that way then that way.” This seemed like common sense to me, but the lady who asked seemed so grateful!
- Say you’re welcome. Same as thank you’s, really. Take the time to say “you’re welcome” or “no problem” – no need to rush.
- Shrug off awkward exchanges. If someone gives you a dirty look or a cyclist yells at you when they’re in the wrong, laugh it off. Don’t let it ruin your day.
Try to meet someone new today, even if it’s just for a few seconds. Then share your story in the comments!
P.S. How to Find Your Tribe