lf you’re a natural introvert, you may cringe every time you even think about talking to a stranger. I feel your pain. I’m an ambivert, which means I can go either way depending on the day and situation. But I know the cringe well.
And sometimes you need to talk to strangers, especially if you find yourself in a job where you’re having to sell something. Why would you choose a job in sales, you ask, if you’re an introvert? Well, there could be a number of reasons.
I, for one, love to write. I’m a writer. I’ve written and self-published a number of books. But, since I’ve self-published, that means I’m responsible for marketing those books myself. Truth be told, in this day and age, even if you did traditionally publish you’d be responsible for most, if not all, of your own book promotion because publishers only throw the big marketing money at promoting the authors they know are sure things. And if you’re a newbie, you’re not a sure thing. By any stretch of the imagination. And a lot of that book marketing ends up being in face to face events and conferences, where you’re meeting a lot of strangers and trying to sell yourself to them in a very short period of time.
So, even if you do choose a career that you’re pretty sure will never necessitate talking face to face with another human being, you may find yourself thrust into a situation (or two) in which you just can’t avoid it. In such situations, especially if you don’t know the person you’re talking to, it can be extremely difficult to figure out what you’re going to say, or how to say it. Even the thought of opening your mouth to say something to somebody with whom you are not familiar can seem daunting, so here are some tips on how to make it a little easier to talk to a stranger.
Smile and say hello
Sometimes it’s as simple as smiling and saying “hello.” To most people, this will send across the message that you are open to communicating with them and learning more about them. Trust me. A smile can go a long way in breaking the ice in any social situation.
Of course, there are those few people who will ignore both your smile and your cheery greeting, and you may feel crushed if this happens. But try not to let it bother you too much. Remember, if they rudely ignore a friendly outreach like that, it’s not about you. They’re just really unfriendly, unhappy people, and you don’t need to waste your time with them.
Imagine they’re already your friend
The more you think about the fact that you’ve never spoken to a particular person before and that you don’t know them at all, the scarier the thought of trying to make conversation with them will be. Instead, try to trick your brain into reframing the relationship.
Look at the person in front of you who you have never met before, and imagine that they are not a stranger. They are your friend. This is just the very first time you’re meeting them. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the whole uncomfortable situation can change into something positive with just this one change in mindset.
look for something to talk about
I know you, introvert. You don’t like small talk. But you have to remember that, to most people in the world, small talk is absolutely normal. And sometimes necessary. If you want (or need) to talk to people you’ve never met before. You’re going to have to start somewhere, and that usually means engaging in small talk.
I always try to start with a compliment. Note: this has to be a GENUINE compliment. Don’t try to fake it. You’re not good at it (come on, you know you’re not), and people will see right through it.
Something as simple as, “Oh, I love your earrings (or shoes, or whatever)! Where did you get them?,” can go a long way as a conversation starter.
Or this one works well for our family, because my girls almost always run at any stranger with a dog that comes into view: “Do you mind if we pet your dog?”
It doesn’t have to be anything profound or earth-shattering. It really doesn’t. I know you think it does, but I promise you it doesn’t. Start small, and build from there.
Ask open-ended questions
If you want to start a real conversation with a stranger after the door has been opened with small talk, you need to ask open-ended questions instead of closed ones. Don’t let them off easy by asking a question they can just answer “yes” or “no” to. Ask them how long they’ve lived in the area, what their favorite color is, or even what type of book they like to read (or if they read at all).
This will force the other person to either completely ignore you (most people won’t do this because they don’t want to seem rude) or to give a longer answer, which will initiate further conversation.
know when to walk away
If you see the person regularly (like at monthly meetings or weekly kids’ ballgames or something) and you want to speak to them again, don’t scare them off by being too full-on at first. Be genuine, but be genuinely interested in THEM.
Don’t spend so much time talking about yourself that their eyes start to glaze over. Ask questions about them, and let them answer and ask questions about you. But keep your answers short. And really listen to what they’re saying when they answer your questions, rather than just thinking about the next thing you want to say. And when you do start to see their eyes glaze over or their face scrunch up in a frown, that’s your cue to walk away and save the rest for another day (or another person, if you’re at a networking event).
Don’t worry so much about what other people think
The main reason we choose not to do many things in life is because we’re worried about what others will think about them. The fear of rejection is one of the greatest fears we experience as humans, which is why that abovementioned interaction with the stranger who doesn’t return your smile and greeting stings so much.
But if you tell yourself that their reaction doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t like you on a better day (everybody has bad days), and that even if they didn’t that doesn’t change the fact that you’re an awesome person who has a lot to offer, then it will be a lot easier for you to overcome the fear of rejection. Pretty soon, if you keep practicing looking at the interaction in a different way, any rejection you do face will just naturally roll off your shoulders like water off a duck’s back.
hold onto your confidence
The key to any successful interpersonal interaction is knowing yourself. Have confidence in your skills, abilities, and innate worth as an individual. Take some time before you meet anyone new to really examine the reasons why you want this interaction to be successful. How does it fit into the broader plan for your life? How will it help you reach your ultimate goals and dreams?
If you stay focused on those, your self-confidence will come shining through, and you’ll naturally be more attractive. Pretty soon you will find that’s it not that hard to talk to strangers at all, because they’re the ones who are approaching YOU.