How to Carry a Conversation with a Stranger

Let me preface with the notion that there are infinite ways to strike a conversation with strangers. The lighter the material, the more receptive people are. However, people come from different histories and backgrounds that alter their personalities and their social openness. It will be easier to speak with natural extroverts because introverts have a tendency to store information.

Assess the environment. Where are you at? Social environments tend to anchor conversational topics. If you’re at a bar, then strangers will be more receptive to speaking concerning more personal matters quickly. The receptivity heightens when you throw in any form of stimulant or depressants such as alcohol, drugs, etc.

Your opener. This can be as simple as, “Hello, I saw you from over there and you looked attractive so I had to get to know you. My name is ____.” Or in a non-romantic method, “Hello, I’m attempting to build my social skills. My name is ____.” As long as most people are not heavily invested in the activity that they are currently doing, then they will be willing to speak with you. You’ve introduced yourself and said your name. Now what? What material is there to talk about?

Build rapport. This is where your environment will have an impact on your topics. You don’t want to sound like you’re interviewing someone, we know. So how do we build rapport without sounding interrogative? Be inquisitive.

Lead with vulnerability, hope for response. Strangers are strangers meaning that, neither of you know anything about each other so opening up with personal information needs to be treated with respect and sensitivity. It’s easier to engage in a conversation by opening up and putting yourself in a place of vulnerability so that opposing party has the option to drop down to your level. Most likely, they will. Humans are empathetic beings; we love to share feelings and emotions.

Poor Examples

  1. What do you think about the upcoming election?
  2. What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
Good Examples
  1. I happened to catch a bit of the debate last night on TV. I can’t believe how intense it got. What are some of your thoughts of the election?
  2. Last year, I did some base jumping off the cliff of the Appalachians. What are some of the wildest adventures you’ve been on?

Once you’ve developed some rapport, listen. My single most intriguing thought is that when humans don’t know each other, they hate to open up. But once a hole is cracked, the floodgates surge in. People love to talk about themselves. Listen to your conversations for the rest of the day. Count the number of times you say “I” or “me”? How many sentences start with “you”? You’ll find that there is significantly more with “I” or “me” because we naturally are narcissistic.

Ask leading, open questions. Open questions father responses that are both personal and stimulating. Closed questions result in a yes or no.

Example Closed Questions

  1. Are you a student?
  2. Do you read books?
  3. What are you studying?

Example Open Questions

  1. What are you studying?
  2. What types of books intrigue you?
  3. How would you describe your studies?

Never assume a position. Especially in controversial topics. If you assume that someone carries the same views that you have, then you’re essentially shutting them out and holding a closed-mind. You invade on their right to hold an opinion and it will impose tension on their answer and strain the conversation so they’re led to answer in a certain manner.

Bad Examples

  1. Can you believe how stupid people are concerning KONY 2012?
  2. Isn’t it funny how vegetarians seem to think they’re healthier than the rest of the population?

Good Examples

  1. Can you believe how stupid people are concerning KONY 2012?
  2. I heard somewhere that vegetarians commonly carry the perception that they are healthier than others. What are you feelings towards vegetarianism?

Be descriptive and use sub-modalities.  Sub-modalities are representative divisions of our sensory platforms such as (for visual) brightness, degree of color (saturation), size, distance, sharpness, focus, and so on; (for auditorial) loudness, pitch, tonal range, distance, clarity, timbre, and so on. The more description you inject into the conversation, the better understanding and connectivity you maintain with your partner.

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