How to Talk to Strangers (Don't Worry, Your Parents Approve)

Picture this: you are out in the world free of apps and WiFi. You are at a café, a movie theater, or a bar. You see someone across the room (or maybe just the next table over). There is something about this person – it could be their mannerisms, their smile, or something more intangible. And you think to yourself, “I can’t talk to that stranger,” or “it would be so creepy to just go up to that person.” Guess what? You can absolutely talk to that person! And you don’t have to be creepy to do it. Here’s how.

You are not alone

First and foremost, you don’t have to approach introductions alone. Grab a friend and use them as a support while you go over and talk to this new person. Working as a team, or having someone who can advocate on your behalf, increases your chances of feeling natural and confident.

And if you need to make a sudden exit, it never hurts to have a partner in crime to assist in your mad dash.

Your gaze is important

We were taught as children that staring is rude, right? So remember that just because you find someone interesting does not mean staring at them intensely will translate into a telepathic “hello.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, once you’ve engaged someone in conversation, remember to make eye contact. Eye contact is an indication of openness, interest, and paying attention. It is totally natural to feel intimidated or uncomfortable when attempting to maintain eye contact (especially when we spend half of the day making eye contact with our smart phones). You can work up to more direct eye contact. It might be easier to start looking slightly above the person’s eyes at their eyebrows or their forehead.

And, a great rule of thumb: it always easier to make eye contact when you are listening. So start off the conversation with a question like “how was your day?” to get the person talking.

A friendly acknowledgement goes a long way

Think about the last time you held the door open for someone, or picked something up for someone. When the person smiled back at you, did you immediately think “what a creep”? Probably not. It’s rare to not want to return a genuine and friendly smile. Smiling is not a sign of weakness. Like eye contact, when used in a casual and natural way, smiling indicates openness, affirmation and support.

It may sound silly, but if you are in a pinch and need to keep a smile light and natural think “happy thoughts.” Give it a shot next time you feel nervous. Think about a happy memory, a silly gif you saw recently, or even a song that makes you happy. Sometimes just thinking about a beautiful day with a warm sun and soft clouds can do the trick.

Remember they are talking to a stranger too

Often approaching a new person can feel like a risk, but remember to not be too hard on yourself. You are being incredibly brave! The person you are talking to may not have read this article, so there is a good chance they are equally as nervous and could potentially revert into avoiding eye contact and mean mugging. If the person is not receptive to you, that is okay. Don’t push the interaction. Instead give yourself a pat on the back for taking a chance and practicing your skills. Each time you open yourself up to a new person you are strengthening you own socially prowess and ensuring the next time will be even easier.

As someone who meets new people everyday, I can tell you that there are times when it is still very hard for me to talk to a stranger. If I am nervous or not in the mood to start a conversation, I remind myself to take a deep breath, think about something happy, and know that at the end of the day we are all people who are looking for happiness and meaningful connections.