Baby steps to starting a conversation

Have a plan of action to break the ice in those first few moments
We all know people who can approach anyone and strike up a conversation, or those who can walk up to a table of guests at a wedding and seem instantly at ease. Not you? You’re not alone. Like any social skill, breaking the ice doesn’t come naturally for everyone.

If you feel nervous meeting new people or get tongue-tied when trying to come up with something clever to say, it can help to have a plan. Prepare a few openers and strategies to keep the talk flowing, and you needn’t panic when meeting someone new, or chatting with someone seated next to you on public transportation.

In an article on Verywell Mind, Kendra Cherry presents an elegant system designed to prepare the would-be ice breaker.

Her method starts with preparation: have an idea of conversation topics beforehand and try a dry run with a trusted friend. Cherry advises avoiding offensive, uncomfortable and controversial topics when starting a conversation. All of those can stop a conversation in its tracks.

Maintaining a positive, curious attitude is important, as is having a couple of simple, go-to starter statements ready before setting out. “Not every great conversation needs to begin with a deep, philosophical, earth-shattering observation,” says Cherry. Keep it simple. The idea is that if you can get through a few easy-breezy openers, the conversation will progress naturally. And, according to a study she cites, deeper conversations lead to deeper happiness.

Other things to keep in mind are to keep your body language relaxed and open, and maintain comfortable eye contact. (It’s OK to look away from time to time.) Listen carefully and ask questions about what has been said. The emphasis should be on the other person.

“A real conversation always contains an invitation. You are inviting another person to reveal herself or himself to you, to tell you who they are or what they want.” – David Whyte

In How to Start a Conversation on SocialPro, David Morin and psychologist Daniel Wendler lay out an exhaustive list of conversation starters for several potential scenarios, including parties, work, dating, and dinner. The idea is to use these suggestions as springboards, helping get you to the next step. They’re definitely basic (“How do you know people here?” and “What department do you work in?”) but will come in handy for the typically tongue-tied.

The authors offer plenty of easy one-liners for getting started. And they delineate more finesse-filled strategies for following up on something you observed or asking about the place or situation you’re in, rather than grilling a conversation partner with direct questions about themselves. A few more ideas from Morin and Wendler include:

  • Infuse your conversation with a mix of questions about others and sharing about yourself.
  • Use open-ended questions to keep the conversation lively.
  • Make a positive remark about the environment you are sharing to signal friendliness and openness.
  • Use your senses to offer an observation about your shared environment.

Follow these tips and you’re likely to feel less overwhelmed at the idea of meeting new people.

Making the first move to start a conversation

Did you know that you can brighten someone’s day and feel more socially connected when you’re comfortable making the first move to start a conversation? Here are a few examples of everyday opportunities for striking up conversations with strangers. Try reaching out to people around you.

Meet new neighbors. Strike up conversation with someone new to your neighborhood. People in a new place can always use a hand, whether it’s learning about local resources, getting settled in, or just getting acquainted.

Commune with commuters. Offer to give up your seat on a bus or train. Strike up a conversation with the person who accepts, or a new person you end up near. Give your window or aisle seat to someone who has a middle seat on a flight and exchange a few nice words.

Connect with small courtesies. Notice and say ‘thank you’ the next time someone extends a small favor to you. Appreciate moments when someone:

  • Opens the door for you
  • Picks up something you’ve dropped (or points out that you dropped something)
  • Refills your soda glass or coffee cup in a restaurant

To get a conversation started, add an extra sentence of appreciation and a little small talk. Like “Aw, thanks for the kindness. You made my day! Gorgeous day, isn’t it?” (Overstatement is OK.)

Seven ideas for starting a conversation

Practicing the art of starting a conversation is likely to be worth the effort. However awkward it might seem at first, these conversation openers will feel easy and intuitive with practice. It comes down to seeing the opportunity and choosing to engage. Here are seven things you can try the next time you meet someone new:

  • Pay them a compliment
  • Ask them their opinion
  • Invite them to help you with something
  • If it appears they need help, offer it
  • Look for something you have in common
  • Ask them to expand on something they say — “Tell me more about…”
  • Ask them about their connection to whatever your shared context is — how do you know the host of the party we’re at? When did you move to the neighborhood? How long have you been working at our company? Do you take the train often?

Source: 7ESL

Stuck in conversation neutral? Drive a FORD.

Awkward silences aren’t only uncomfortable, they can stop a conversation almost before it begins. “How ‘bout those Red Sox?” doesn’t always save the day. When thinking of something to say, remember the FORD technique, according to the folks at Brightside.

  • Family: Have you been living here for a long time? Do you have siblings? (Note: Asking about children can seem forward to some.)
  • Occupation: What keeps you feeling busy and productive? What is the most challenging part of your job? (Note: Know your audience. Americans have little hesitancy in asking about strangers’ careers. But in other cultures – such as in England – broaching such topics can be seen as rude.)
  • Recreation: How do you like to spend your free time? Where can I get the fabric you used to create this table runner? What did you do for fun when you were a kid?
  • Dreams: If you could travel anywhere, where would you visit? What’s something you want to learn more about? If you didn’t have to work any more, what would you do with your time?

Source: Brightside

Great Small Talk Topics

Getting in the right frame of mind to meet new people can take some planning. Next time you head out to meet new people, here are some topics to think about. From Verywell Mind comes a list of subjects that work as icebreakers.

  • Pop culture: Movies, television shows, books, and music are all excellent conversation topics. “Are you into any shows or books these days?”
  • Sports: Know your crowd, but a shared interest in a home team or special sports event like the Olympics can prompt a lively interchange. “What do you like to watch when the Olympics are on?”
  • Food: Everyone eats it and most people have opinions about it. Ask about their favorite restaurant or what they like to cook. “Where do you like to go to eat around here?”
  • Hobbies: What people enjoy doing in their free time is often something they enjoy talking about. “What do you like to do in your free time?”

Source: Verywell Mind

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