Is it possible to look at strangers in any light other than a danger. From the time I was knee high to a grass hopper I was warned about the dangers of talking to strangers. As an introvert I am quite happy to avoid talking to strangers. I recognise that the danger they pose is inside my head rather than from anything they might do. Research has shown that between the ages of 5 and 80 the average person interacts with around 80,000 people. It is estimated that this number would more than double if every stranger we had the opportunity to speak to we did.
What stops us? Our parents warnings? More likely it is due to lack of confidence – will we look bad? Often we don’t because we simply do not know how. I know I used to often say to my husband “what will I talk about?” I envied him his ability to speak to anyone and everyone. Is it fear? It is time, I believe, to overcome that fear by changing the way we approach that initial conversation. We should see conversation as an adventure. We don’t know what we may learn but it is certain that we will have a unique experience and hear stories that we have never heard before. The conversation may open doors and define who we are as a person. Let’s face it – at one point your best friend was a stranger – who knows where a conversation may lead.
So is it that you don’t have the confidence. You are too shy. Let them come to you. This is fine if they too aren’t shy. Anyway, what have you got to lose? The worst that can happen is that they won’t talk to you … but then, they’re not talking to you now. You have nothing to lose but everything to gain.
I have got some tips to make all conversations easier but particularly that first one. It isn’t easy but practice makes it much easier. Even if you perfect one tip that conversation will be better. Who knows what might happen?
Tip 1: First word. This is simple. Take a big breath in. Expand your chest if you are really nervous. Put a big smile on your face and walk over and say Hallo. Hi. Who can resist a smiling face. The odds are they will smile and say hi back. The ice is broken.
Tip 2: Use as little small talk as possible and ask a personal question. This is when the conversation will start to move. Don’t ask a confronting private question but something like That is an interesting name. Where does it come from? That is a beautiful necklace – where did you get it?
Tip 3: Use open ended questions not ones that can be answered with a yes or a no. Open ended questions generally start with How, What, Where and Why. Personally I find this is one of the hardest tips to follow and now I am consciously trying these techniques I often find myself mid sentence trying to change what I am saying. I know practice will help this problem.
Tip 4: Find the me toos. Avoid using negative statements. They kill the conversation stone dead. Things like. “I found New Zealand so scenically attractive.” “I hated New Zealand.” End of conversation. Instead,find the things you have in common. This is where the conversation becomes easier. It is why conversations are so easy at the dog park and sporting events. That me too something doesn’t have to be found, it is apparent.
Tip 5: Pay a unique but genuine compliment. People will forget what you say but they will remember how you made them feel. Make them feel good but to do that it has to be genuine and sometimes outside the box. If someone that is beautiful, for example, is told they are beautiful it is such a commonplace thing for them to hear they are not going to be that over the moon about it. If you tell them though how when they smile it starts at their mouth and crumples their eyes making their entire face smile – they might feel good about that. But remember it must be genuine.
Tip 6: Don’t multitask. – Forget the phone. Forget all the things you should be doing and the essay you should be writing. Be present and have eye contact.
Tip 7: Ask for an opinion – don’t make it seem like an examination but rather keep it simple. What movie did you last see? What did you think of it?
Tip 8: Listen. This is probably the most important tip and possibly the one that most people struggle with. Go with the flow. Let thoughts come into your brain but let them go. Follow the speaker. Listen for the right reasons. Most people listen to reply when you should be listening to understand. You should be listening at least 50% of the conversation. Buddah said “Whenever you have your mouth open you aren’t learning.” And lets face it – you can’t put your foot in your mouth either when you aren’t talking. Don’t pontificate. Enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn. If you want to pontificate – write a blog. Set aside your own personal opinion and listen. This will let the speaker feel free to open up and explain his opinions. Being open to others opinions gives a greater understanding of the world and how people think and feel and understanding and acceptance is the key to the world becoming a more peaceful place.
Tip 10: Forget your details but remember theirs. No-one is interested in the detail of a story such as place and date and time, they are interested in its effect on you. Someone (I can’t remember who) wrote that you should see your conversation as a mini skirt. Short enough to maintain interest but long enough to cover the subject. Remembering their details such as name, animals, and family will make them feel valued on your next meeting.
Using these tips should make the difficulties of that initial conversation with a stranger that much easier – particularly now safe subjects such as health and weather are no longer safe because of vaccines and climate change. Approach each conversation as an adventure. You never know where it may lead you.