How to Talk to Strangers and Really Get to Know Someone

Talking to strangers isn’t easy, and to many people it’s even very stressful, which makes sense. You don’t know the person, you don’t know where the conversation is going, and you must pay close attention to what they say, contrary to if you were talking to someone you know well.

Why would you talk to strangers?

Yes, why would you do it? There are many reasons, here are a few: Psychologists have found that talking to a stranger boosts your mental performance. See it like a workout.

A few other reasons:

  • Meeting someone new
  • Makes life more interesting, more surprising
  • You could benefit from it (professional, emotionally,..)
  • Makes you feel less lonely

In general, we can say that talking to strangers can not only be fun but also enhance our sense of well-being, make us smarter, expand our social and professional networks and even make new friends.

But…talking to strangers is scary. How do I do it? How do I start talking to someone I don’t know?

How to initiate a good conversation

For a lot of people, the hardest thing about talking to strangers is initiating the conversation: approaching someone, making them feel safe, and quickly conveying the idea that you don’t have an agenda, that you’re just being friendly or curious.

So, what is the best way to start a conversation?

There are a bunch of “openers” that you can use, depending on the moment you’re in, or the location you’re at. Below are some examples:

  1. Comment / compliment on something they are doing or wearing.
    Example: “I see your T-shirt says [band name]. Have you been to one of their shows?”
    Example: “Hey I love your dog! What breed is it? How old?”
  2. Ask for help / directions
    Example: when shopping for clothes: “Hello, could you maybe help me? I can’t decide, which sweater looks better?” And then ask if they maybe have more tips or can recommend other clothes or stores.
  3. Offer help
    Example: “Hey do you need help with that?”
    Example: “Small tip: that cocktail tastes way better with lemonade”
    Example: “Let me help you with those bags!”
  4. Introduce yourself
    Example: “Hi, I’m Michiel, you seemed like a fun and nice person, so I just wanted to come say hi and introduce myself.”
  5. Ask for their opinion
    Example: “Hey I saw you were eating that, would you recommend it?”
    Example: “Hey I love your shoes, I was actually thinking about buying the same model, but are they comfortable?”
  6. Observe and comment/ask or praise
    Example: someone is doing something nice, cool, walk up to them and give them some nice feedback.

After the initial opening: Ask about them

This is the MOST IMPORTANT THING! People LOVE to talk about themselves. Ask questions, REALLY LISTEN to what they say and find a topic that they’re passionate about. This can be about their interests, family or experiences.

P.S. Avoid politics, age, religion, gossip… all that kind of stuff that could break the conversation.

Re-Connecting with someone that you’ve met in the past

Sometimes you meet someone that you’ve already seen before, and then they usually ask:

“How are you?” or “How do you do?”

Don’t you hate the question? I used to hate it, until I understood what it actually is about. It has 2 meanings:

  1. Another way of saying “Hi, I know you but I don’t really want to talk to you”.
  2. It’s the opener for a better conversation. It’s a way to get comfortable with one another and cast around for something you want to talk about.

Every single person is interesting, but it’s not up to them to show you — it’s up to you to discover it

Responding to “How are you?” or “How do you do?”

When someone says, “How are you?”, from now on, never again say “Fine.” Instead, say for example “Well, I’d rate it 7/10”.

They will look at you with a questioning face. Respond by briefly explaining why it’s a 7/10, and then ask them how they’re doing, and then just wait.

Most people will respond in the same way as you just did, this is a human psychology fact known as “mirroring”. If you say something generic, they will say something generic. If you say something specific, they are likely to as well. Because you rated your day with a number, your conversation partner is likely to give a number themselves.

If they say they’re at 6, then ask, “What’ll it take to get you to an 8?” This instantly demonstrates complexity, feeling, and humour: humanity, in other words. Also, thanks to this unique approach, naturally, things open up more easily.

Small psychological tricks

To end the article, I would like to share few basic psychological tricks that are extremely important when it comes to human interaction. Learn them. Train yourself, practice and keep repeating!

When talking to someone:

  • Ask for their name, and REMEMBER it
  • Look into their eyes
  • Smile (don’t make it awkward of course)
  • Ask questions and REALLY LISTEN to what they say, respond to it.
  • Let them talk more than you. Limit talking about yourself unless they really ask.

Yes, all these things require a certain measure of confidence to pull off, but they work and it’s worth it. Remember, it might not go always smooth, and you might end up in some awkward situations, but practice makes perfect! Just keep going, learn and repeat.

Now, go out there and talk to some strangers!

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Michiel Schuer

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Enthusiastic about learning new things, side-hustles, and translating my personal experiences into motivational stories.

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