post written by: Marc Chernoff

12 Ways To Make Talking To Strangers Less Awkward


Rules for Talking to Strangers

Let’s face it, fewer moments are more awkward than trying to strike up a casual conversation with someone you don’t know very well.  Here are some quick tips to lighten up the situation:

  1. Talk about who you know and what you have in common.  Mutual friends, bosses, hometowns, etc.
  2. Ask relevant questions about life, work, hobbies, and pop-culture.  Keeping abreast of current events will provide you with great conversation builders.  Lead with “What do you think of…?”, “Have you heard…?”, “What is your take on…?”, etc.  Stay away from negative or controversial topics, and refrain from long-winded stories.
  3. If you notice yourself getting bored with what you’re saying, stop talking, acknowledge the situation, and move on to the next topic.
  4. Listen more than you talk.
  5. With people you have never met before, limit stories to the last few moments of your life.  Bring up casual points about your current surroundings, like the funny music playing in the background or the tasty martinis the bar is serving.
  6. Know a few interesting historical facts, like this one:  As a child, Albert Einstein seldom spoke.  When he did, he spoke very slowly – indeed, he tried out entire sentences in his head until he got them right before he spoke aloud.  Einstein did this until he was nine years old.  His parents were worried about his lack of talking.  But at last, at the supper table one night, he broke his silence to say, “The soup is too hot!”  Greatly relieved, his parents asked why he had never said a word before.  Albert replied, “Because up to now everything was in order.”
  7. But realize that no one likes a person who thinks they know everything.
  8. Prolonged pauses are the best time for that interesting historical fact.  Most people would rather listen to you talk about anything than listen to an awkward silence.
  9. Watch your body language.  People who look ill at ease make others uncomfortable.  Act confident and comfortable, even when you’re not.
  10. Let strangers interrupt you.  They’re not being rude, they’re assisting you.  Let them speak, and wait to be prompted before continuing your story.  It’s usually a good sign that they are actually listening to you.
  11. If all else fails, just talk about the weather, which always gets people riled up (unless you live in Florida or Southern California).
  12. And have a few exit lines ready so, if needs be, you can both gracefully move on.  For example, “I need to check in with a client over there,” “I skipped lunch today, so I need to grab a quick bite,” etc.

As long as you avoid anything personal, political, or controversial – at least during first encounters – and know which questions to ask, you’ll be talking the talk of certified socialite.  Also, read Dale Carnegie’s classic, How To Win Friends and Influence People, for a great read on this topic.

Photo by: Sharkbait

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21 Comments

  • Great tips! Very useful for business situations, too.

  • Saurabh Banerjee
    August 25th, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Informative. This will surely help with those awkward silences.

  • ‘This soup is too hot’

    Quite a way to start your talking life at 9 :-) Interesting though… his mom must have been a good cook.

    Good read.

  • This is a skill that has taken me a long time to start getting better at but it’s also a huge fear for a lot of people. It feels really good to overcome the fear and meet someone new, these tips are a great way to do that and the more you do it the easier it becomes. Thanks for this!

  • I really gotta second the recommendation for Dale Carnegie’s book. How to Win Friends and Influence People is definitely worth the read.

    I still don’t know why silences have to be awkward. I quite enjoy silence in my life. :-)

  • I especially think #4 should be used more often…and by more people…

  • Simple and effective advice. For the most part these tips ready to be implemented, and I intend to do so. Thanks.

  • Glad you all enjoyed this short article. These tips come in handy when I’m in large social situations with folks I don’t know. I hope they become equally as helpful to you.

    Have a great weekend, everyone!

  • Thanks for this post :)

    I work in a cake and ice cream shop so I deal with a lot of strangers daily. I’ve always had some sort of anxiety with talking to strangers– I mumble and aren’t very confident when I have even just small talk. It’s been only a year and I have improved quite a lot. This will give me an extra boost :D

  • I guess at some point we as humans all deal with the awkward moments. Its what we do with ourselves within those moments that will decide the next hour or your lifetime.

    I’m fairly new to this blog.<——–Straight to the point ;)……….With that being said, I find the quality of people that leave their two cents behind for the rest of the world to see, as positive and up-building as the lists themselves. It’s good to see people being positively influenced through self expression and philosophy.

    Although i am new here I have been posting a list a day at my office just for the non-caffeine drinkers (for the little pep in their step).

    Looking forward to your next list!

  • These are great ideas to deal with strangers. One of the techniques that i use is to listen to them - truly listen. It makes all the difference. Thanks again for another great post.

  • One of the best ways to strike up a conversation is to offer a sincere but well-placed compliment; everyone appreciates a kind word!

  • Agree with the compliment! That’s the best way to give someone incentive to WANT to talk to you. I always did this, even in subways in NY. A genuine compliment can be a breath of fresh air.

  • Very nice article! I passed it along to my Toastmasters club.

  • Good tips! I think that it all starts with practice. Once you start speaking more often with strangers, it’ll get easier.

    I would add two tips:

    13. Maintain eye contact - it’ll show that there’s a real communication between you are and your listener.
    14. Make another person talk about himself - who doesn’t like talking about himself?

  • I love this post. I will try to apply this to social networking for business. This should help me network a little more. Thanks.

  • Really great tips here guys. I know I’m going to be going to some networking events and conferences in the coming year and I’m really glad I found this. Thanks! :-)

  • When you’re in a lagging conversation and the other person starts talking about the weather, don’t you hate it? It’s so awkward, and makes you both self-conscious about the rhetorical situation.

    Any guide for how to be a good conversational partner that suggests talking about the weather is written by someone who is badly in need of such a guide.

  • Always polite to at least say hi to those seated next to you when traveling. You never know what it may lead to! Great tips, thanks for sharing!

  • One of the best books I’ve read on a subject similar to this is, “How to Talk to Anyone.” Highly recommended to calm the butterflies of talking to strangers!

  • Great tips! It’s always fun meeting new people but “breaking the ice” can be hard/awkward sometimes. Thanks for sharing!

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