In today’s lesson, you will learn how to start a conversation with a stranger. Teacher Benjamin will give you practical conversation skills advice for meeting new people and chatting to strangers.
Fear of Strangers
Many of us grew up being told that it’s dangerous to speak to strangers. However, following that advice can be limiting once you have reached adulthood. Having the skills to start a conversation with someone you don’t know, a stranger, is a useful life skill to have because it opens up your world. Of course, the point is not to learn how to chat to the scary type of stranger! What we want instead is the skill required to start chatting to an unknown person, who appears friendly.
Practising the skill of starting a conversation helps us to feel a sense of belonging in the local community in which we live. The opposite is also true: if we don’t start conversations with people, our world can be small. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
From a purely cynical perspective, we can also say that having the skill of starting conversations with others is likely to bring more opportunities into our lives. This is because speaking to new people gradually widens our network of acquaintance. And when this happens, more opportunities and potential benefits to us arise.
Fear of Awkward Silence Stop People from Starting a Conversation
Not knowing what to say in conversation means that many people hold back from beginning conversations with new people. This is because they are afraid that their attempt will fail. What if the person ignores or dismisses your effort to start a friendly conversation? Or worse, what if your conversation quickly dies to create an awkward silence between you!
Have the Right Mindset for Starting Conversations with Strangers
Before you begin practising the skill of starting conversations with strangers, it is important to have the right mindset. Your efforts must not be done with an agenda to get something from the person to whom you are speaking.
If you are starting conversations with strangers because you are trying to make friends or because you want a date, you are much more likely be disappointed by the results. Most people don’t want to make a new friend because they are wary of strangers! Most people do however enjoy friendly and polite chats.
Expect nothing from strangers! That way you won’t feel hurt or rejected if your attempts to start a conversation fail”.Jade Joddle
Simple Technique for Starting a Conversation
To start a conversation with a stranger, all you need to do is notice what is happening around you and then make observations based on what you see.
When applying this technique it’s important not to judge or assess your observations before you speak. You should just say what you observe, even if you think that it is not interesting enough to share. You may think that the dusty table is not an appropriate topic to observe in conversation, but actually saying such an observation can serve to take the conversation in an unpredictable and energising direction – you just won’t know until you speak up and share your observation!
To keep the conversation interesting, it is necessary to make new observations whenever you feel the energy of the conversation is falling or when you have run out of things to say about the topic.
By talking about what is happening around us and paying attention to our surroundings we can avoid asking too many questions in conversation. It means that the conversation is more organic and unpredictable than it would be if you were to ask typical ‘getting to know you’ questions.
After you Start a Conversation, You May Go from Stranger to Friend!
When you first start speaking to a stranger, you will be talking about impersonal topics of conversation (for example talking about a chair or painting in the room). Yet even so, topics like these can reveal a lot about the person to whom you are talking.
In rare cases, the stranger may warm up and decide to share some some personal opinions or reflections with you. This is the gentle progress from stranger to friend, which happens occasionally when you start conversations with people you don’t know.
In cases where there is a good connection between you and the stranger, you may find that your conversation branches out into new topics. You may then start speaking about one of the common conversation topics, as shown in the infographic below:
Next time you are having a conversation with a stranger try out this conversation skills technique. You don’t need to prepare anything in advance; simply observe what you see around you.
Extend Your Learning
▶︎ Watch my lesson on How to Speak Confidently.
▶︎ Learn some useful phrases to start a conversation in English via Benjamin at EngVid.