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How to Make Small Talk With Strangers
For those of us who aren't social butterflies, making conversation with people who aren't close friends or family can be a nerve-wracking task. While other people seem to have an unlimited supply of stories to tell and topics to discuss, introverts can struggle to find anything to say. Or you may spend so much time rehearsing what you'll say in your head you might lose the opportunity to say it.
However, I've come to discover that while I may never be 100% comfortable holding a conversation with an acquaintance, it is possible to become better at it over time. So here is my guide to talking to people you don't know very well and NOT hating every second of it.
1. Stick with the basics (yes, even the weather).
There are some things all people can discuss without any awkwardness or misunderstanding. Comment on the weather, ask about plans for the upcoming weekend, make an observation about the event you're attending, or offer a compliment. These conversation starters are casual enough for discussing with anyone without leading to an uncomfortable clashing of opinions. Yet, they lead to more than a yes or no answer, which is an immediate conversation killer.
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2. Pick your focus.
Once you've started the conversation, have an idea of where you'd like it to go. Take cues from what your conversation partner is saying to ask questions for more details. With the focus on them, you'll only have to keep prompting them for further information; they'll do the rest of the conversation leg work. Or if you're the opposite and don't like to ask questions for fear of seeming nosey, let them ask you a question and answer with enough detail to illicit another question. If they don't ask another, pick a new basic topic to discuss.
3. Pick a positive feature to focus on.
Introverts have a subconscious tendency to think that the person they're talking to would rather be talking to someone else. Don't let these thoughts fool you as they're almost always wrong! If you start to feel this way, pick a positive feature about yourself and focus on it. It could be your optimistic attitude, your great laugh, or your listening skills. Whatever it is remember it and that you are an extremely valuable conversation partner.
4. Exit the conversation gracefully.
Figuring out when the conversation should end or how to leave it can be tricky. You might feel compelled to just keep talking, hoping that the person you're talking to will be the one to walk away. However, that doesn't always happen. So if you want to leave a conversation, take matters into your own hand by offering a summary statement. This could be something like "Oh, yes, that does sound like a fun trip. I hope you have fun" when discussing vacation plans, or something like "Enjoy the rest of the night. It should be a good presentation" at a work event. Aim to sum up the main topic of your conversation and then leave with a positive sentiment. That way you can leave the conversation and your conversation partner will feel fond about talking to you.
5. Give yourself a break.
We don't always have to be socializing. If you'd rather sit quietly by yourself or wander around with your own thoughts, you are more than entitled to that alone time. If you've made some excellent connections with people at work or elsewhere and feel a little overwhelmed, sometimes the best thing you can do is take some time to yourself. You'll rejuvenate yourself for more talking instead of burning yourself out.
Conversations with acquaintances don't have to be stressful. No matter how introverted you are you can talk with anyone you meet—it just takes a little strategy.
© 2016 Sarah Marie Wallenfang