Tips on Starting a Conversation

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Don’t be shy! Here are some ideas for talking to anyone

Have you ever started talking to someone new, then suddenly felt tongue-tied and not known what to say? You are not alone, it appears, most of us become lost for words or intimidated by strangers at some point in our lives.

You don’t have to be a sparkling extrovert or a born raconteur to master small talk and, once you’ve practiced and become proficient, being able to hold your own in a conversation can open all sorts of doors.

The answer is to be mindful, open and to accept your vulnerability. A few deep breaths are one of the most helpful things to calm you before trying to initiate a conversation.

Breaking the Ice with Strangers

The cold, hard truth of the matter is that anyone’s reaction to your initial approach varies wildly depending on how trustworthy you appear or how attractive they find you, so be extremely aware of your appearance.

Having said that, It seems that nowadays it’s not the done thing to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know – especially when that person is minding their own business, we really don’t like it when people speak to us directly just to make conversation.

It’s OK to initiate communication if:

You don’t speak directly to someone, it gives the other person an opt-out clause – that is, if they don’t feel like speaking to you they can just ignore you and neither you, nor they, need feel offended.

You don’t speak about them, because well, we don’t really like making personal comments until we know someone more intimately, we also don’t take compliments easily, so if you say something such as, ‘I like your hair colour’, most of us will tend to think you’re taking the mickey.  A partial exception to this is making a positive comment about someone’s clothes.

Some useful expressions to get the idea:

In a cool new bar, don’t say: Do you like it here? Do say:  Hey, I love it here!

Watching squirrels, don’t say:  Do you like squirrels? Do say:  They’re cute, aren’t they, or, they are great in pies!

Waiting for the bus, don’t say: Have you been waiting long? Do say:  I can’t believe the buses sometimes!

The point is that whatever you say, it helps if it’s relevant to the situation you both find yourselves in.

At a social or work gathering

You have both been invited to the event so, a little groundwork has already been done, a good way to break into a conversation is to smile at someone, gain eye contact, extend your hand and introduce yourself. If you look and sound friendly the other person is more likely to respond in a friendly manner.

Once you are off the ground

Questions are a good way of keeping a conversation flowing, but don’t worry about the odd lull and start rushing in to fill the gap. A conversation is built around moments of silence and if you try to fill the space out of anxiety you break the natural flow. If you’re not familiar with someone, a good guide is to only ask about things you wouldn’t mind being asked yourself.

The idea is to open pleasant avenues for the other person to chat informally, not start a line of questioning that sounds like an interrogation. Try not to fret too much about what the other person thinks of you. You can end up being overly affected by their view of you and spend your time worrying about their thoughts and reactions.

Learn to listen

Use your eyes to help you understand what you’re hearing as you take in movement and body language. Make sure the person who is speaking knows that you are listening by nodding and asking questions. Your undivided focus on the other person makes them feel accepted and acknowledged.

Share your ideas

This doesn’t mean baring your soul to a complete stranger. All the same, nobody likes being in a conversation where they feel under pressure to do all the talking. The next time you meet someone for the first time and decide to ask, “What do you do for a living?” follow it up with, “What do you enjoy about it?” You may end up having a far more interesting chat.

The great thing about conversation is that you can go step by step, test the waters and carry on only as trust builds up between you.

For the record; commenting on how hot someone is tends to be creepy, and not awesome, just don’t do it. (Well, not all the time).

Spend half an hour in the bathroom before pay discussions practising your confident body language, curled-lip expressions, and that “I’m worth so much more” voice!


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