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How To Make Small Talk With Strangers

There are times when small talk with strangers is expected or required. Regardless of the reason, it can take tremendous effort to get out of your shell and talk to random people...

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“When you have to do small talk, you know, ‘Hello, how are you?’ after that, I don’t know what to do. I go, ‘OK, then,’ and walk away.”

~ Naomi Osaka

Chit-chatting with strangers can be difficult, especially if you’re more of an introvert than an extrovert. More specifically, if people, especially groups of them, make you anxious and uncomfortable, chit-chatting or “making small talk” can feel like one of the biggest feats in the world.

It’s almost cringe-worthy…

In fact, for some, chit-chatting or “making small talk” with strangers is so cringe-worthy that they give off a “do not talk to me” vibe when others are around. These individuals hope and pray that people do not talk to them when standing in the grocery store or department store checkout line.

Maybe, you’re just naturally shy and reserved or, perhaps you simply don’t want to be bothered. Regardless of the reason, it still may take a tremendous effort to get out of your shell and talk to random people.

Sometimes you can’t run from it

But, the truth is, there are times when making small talk with strangers is expected or required. For instance, if you are at a networking event, seminar, or conference. Or, if you’re at a doctor’s appointment, riding in a cab or Uber, or even performing your job duties (i.e. social work, medical field, customer service, retail, etc.).

There are no careers in which you never have to talk to strangers. Even more reclusive jobs, such as accounting, require that you communicate with strangers. So, the best thing you can do is learn how to make small talk with people you don’t know.

Where to start

Not quite sure how to successfully engage in “small talk” with strangers? That’s a-okay because this article will teach you how. Once you learn how to communicate more effectively with others, you’ll feel more confident in any situation.

Effective communication is important in all sectors of your life, so the faster you learn this skill the happier and more successful you will be.

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Actionable Steps


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Read the longer version

If you are interested in learning more about making small talk with strangers, check out the following articles: How to Make Small Talk With Strangers by Live About, 48 Questions That’ll Make Awkward Small Talk So Much Easier by The Muse, and How to Master the Art of Small Talk by Dummies.com.

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Connect the dots

Look for things you have in common. For example, say you and the person behind you have been standing in an extremely long and slow bathroom line, you can try talking (or complaining) about how “they need to more bathroom stalls for the number of people in the facility, company, or establishment.”
 
This will spark the interest of the person or people in line with you. This is a “connector;” it connects you with other people – people who are experiencing the same thing as you at that moment.
 
Just commenting is often enough to successfully master small talk. Sharing a common link, experience, or interest can help you feel bonded with someone else, even a stranger.
 
What if you throw out a connector and the other person doesn’t bite? Keep trying. Eventually, you’ll spark a cord with your intended recipient. It’s natural to assume the other person isn’t interested in chatting with you or just doesn’t have much to say on the topic you brought up. But, maybe, just maybe, he or she will respond once he or she hears something that peaks his or her interest. Don’t give up – but also don’t become an annoying bugaboo. It’s a fine line, but worth the effort.
 
Connecting can have benefits for you too! You’ll find it can help make you feel less alone in your feelings, situation, or experience. A bonus? You’re not standing or sitting there feeling awkward, bored, angry, disappointed, annoyed, or frustrated.

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Make eye contact and smile

If you’re closed off and appear annoyed, angry, upset, or disappointment, no one is going to talk to you. Why not? Because your vibe has “stay away” written all over it. If you attempt to small talk with that vibe, all you’ll get in return is bewildered stares, silence, and furrowed brows.
 
So, make eye contact and smile. When you do this, it signals to others that you’re available to talk for the moment; you come across as a friendly person. It also demonstrates to other people that you are interested in bonding or connecting with them – at least for the time being.
 
The key to making small talk is to listen to the person’s response and show interest in what he or she is saying. You can’t connect with someone if you don’t hear his or her message.

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Ask for advice

If you want to start up a brief conversation with a stranger – ask for advice. Why is this a good idea? Everyone likes to feel important, needed, and helpful; it makes us feel good. It’s also a good way to trigger a short-term conversation, perhaps, while out or waiting for someone or something. Thus, it’s a great way to connect with someone else – someone who may have more knowledge on a specific topic or experience in a particular area.
 
Who knows? The stranger standing in front, beside, or behind you may have the answer to a question that has been plaguing you for years. You’ll never know if you don’t at least ask. For instance, say you jump in a cab, but a stranger is already inside. You’re stuck riding together, at least for a little while, when you notice she has a beautiful handbag – you can try asking her how she likes her handbag. Explain to your fellow car rider that you’re wavering between that handbag and another one, and would love her advice. This will trigger a conversation over a shared interest – handbags. And, it will also make the trip more comfortable until you arrive at your destinations.

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Put down your phone!

You can’t connect with anyone if you’re glued to your phone. As we become more and more dependent on our electronics, the harder it is to form authentic, long-lasting connections with others outside of our inner circles. The result? A “disconnect” between human beings who are designed to be social. If this trend continues, people will become so disconnected that they no longer know how to communicate with each other, preferring to solely chat by text, instant messages, social media posts, and/or emails.
 
Put it away and pay attention to your surroundings. According to a 2014 study on smartphone usage and connecting with others, pulling out a smartphone during a conversation can ruin it. Put away your phone and start engaging with the people in your vicinity. Your phone will be there later – this person probably won’t be. So, take this time to bond with others and learn something new.

About the Author


Dr. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Ph.D. in Family Psychology

Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
Full Bio | All Articles | LinkedIn


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