5 Tips to Make Talking to Strangers Easier
Are you unsure how to talk to strangers? If you’ve ever attend any sort of gathering where strangers were present, or just found yourself needing to make small talk on an elevator, you know that social anxiety + talking to strangers = what do I say?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of just staying silent and either sidestepping away or letting the other person do all the talking (and giving one word answers). I still do this myself. I understand. But… knowing how to talk to strangers is a truly valuable skill. We can work on this together!
The first step in talking to strangers is to make yourself appear approachable. This may sound like simple advice, but if you have social anxiety, your tendency will be to not make eye contact, keep your distance, not smile, and perhaps fold your arms.
A lot of these are safety behaviors (you feel like you are managing your anxiety by doing them). Here’s a tip: pretend like the person you are talking to is a friend you already know and like a lot. Literally, imagine the person you are talking to is that other person. And if you still have your guard up and this does not feel safe, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist (such as through the online therapy service Betterhelp) about this issue.
Take awkward out of the equation by introducing yourself and telling the stranger your name. How many times have you awkwardly talked to someone for a while and then realized you did not know their name and felt too embarrassed to ask? Make it a habit to introduce yourself and it will get easier.
In my own case, I have a bad habit of not introducing myself because my name is hard for people to understand and they always ask me to repeat it. But, at some point in my life I got to the point where I just said my name as clearly as I could—some people ask me how it is spelled, some says it’s a nice name, and some ask me what nationality it is (interestingly, it’s no nationality… it was my mother’s middle name and was the name of a model on the cover of Time Magazine from 1949… which is the story I tell when people ask).
Make Small Talk
You should never over-prepare for social occasions but there is no harm in doing a bit of legwork ahead of time. Having a small list of topics that you can make small talk about will keep you from feeling awkward when trying to make conversation with someone you do not know.
Some easy safe topics are weather and local news… followed by entertainment and sports. If the other person does not respond or reciprocate the conversation, you could change the topic or find someone else to talk about.
Who, what, when, why, where… yes these are the sentence starters that you can use to ask questions when making conversation with strangers. You can also simply say “Yes and…” This is a tactic used in Improv classes to keep the flow of the scene going. the same applies to conversation with strangers.
This might sound odd, but what you say does not matter all that much. What you are doing is making music. Your job is to keep up your end by responding and keeping things going. If you can imagine you are on stage doing improv, this is a good way to visualize things. Are you shutting down the scene or keeping it going? Always keep that in the back of your mind.
Find Common Ground
Finally, the easiest way to talk to strangers is to make them friends. What do you have in common? Did you grow up in the same town? Do you like the same TV shows? Have you traveled to the same places?
The goal of small talk is to hit upon what you might have in common so that you can talk about that in more depth. Because that’s a heck of a lot more interesting than talking about the weather all night. That’s why you keep asking questions… your goal is to find common ground. If you take nothing else away from this article let that be your mantra the next time you need to talk to a stranger:
What do this person and I have in common?
There you have it. Five seemingly simple tips to help you talk to strangers, even though I know this is difficult when you have social anxety. Be approachable, introduce yourself, make small talk, ask questions, and find common ground. Do you have your own strategy for talking to strangers? Let me know in the comments.
Related Articles about Making Conversation
- Tips on How to Manage Conversation Anxiety
- 100 Safety Behaviors that Maintain Social Anxiety
- The Best Small Talk Topics