How to approach people you don't know and start a conversation

Learn how to approach people you don't know by overcoming your fear, using the right opening techniques and using more constructive mindsets.

How to approach people you don't know and start a conversation

Approaching random strangers can feel off. Kind of unnatural. But for you, it is downright scary. You feel like you screw up before you even try. But you want to meet new people nonetheless.

You’re sick of being in social situations, where you stand around looking like an idiot. Saying a few boring, uninspired words to some people,… then nothing else. It feels easier to avoid conversation entirely. Instead of asking for what you want, or trying to make new friends. You accept you are just the quiet guy.

But this doesn’t remove this gaping hole. You feel lonely and left out. Frustrated. Why don’t you get this? Was there something you missed, that others did learn?

Well, yes. Other people had their fair share of practice – and stayed in social shape. You too can (re)learn to talk to anyone. Confidently and without looking desperate. Easily striking up a conversation with strangers, because you like to talk to people.To learn that, let's focus on:

  1. Overcoming your crippling anxiety
  2. How to approach people
  3. Brand new settings for the mind
  4. Taking action

1. Overcoming your crippling anxiety

So we all want to be social. Some people more than others. It doesn’t matter whether you are an extravert or introvert. Talking to people is in our genes, humans are social creatures! So whether you need it a lot or a little, for everybody it is fulfilling to have a healthy social life.

But for whatever reason. It doesn’t work for you. Something blocks you.

There is fear.

A conquerable fear, but a paralyzing sentiment nonetheless. There are three important strategies for handling your fear:

  1. Shock therapy
  2. Gradual conditioning
  3. Rationalizing

1.1 Shock therapy

So imagine you are in front of a lake. The lake is ice cold. But you want to swim. So you can jump in, get a big shock, but you will get used to the temperature. It is terrifying at first but hey, it works.

This equals the “just do it” and “fake it till you make it” arguments. Effective, but it’s shock therapy. If that leap was that easy, you were not reading this.

Jump in and fake it till you make it

1.2 Step by Step conditioning

Exposure therapy is another option. Building up a tolerance, step by step. First you dip your toes. Then your feet. To your knees. Gradually going deeper and deeper. Until you are ready to fully immerse yourself in the water ready to swim.

This is how people even get used to poison (not reccomended)! By exposing yourself to small, growing doses, you can conquer almost anything.

So start conquering a bit of fear. Get used to it. Make another small brave step. And another. Until what seemed like a huge leap of courage, isn’t that big of a deal anymore. Let’s get back on this later.

1.3 Rationalizing your fear

First let’s rationalize why stepping up to people actually is so scary.

You need to do some fear setting. (<– recommended link for that)

Sit down. Think and write – what is the worst thing that can happen? How can you negate the negative consequences as much as possible? And what will you miss out on if you DON’T take action? Think about it.

Realize you can be ignored, sneered at, laughed at. And that can hurt emotionally. But in essence, nothing really bad has happened. Imagine this – what will change in your life?

Really bring home the argument: YES there is a whole emotional dimension, but on the other side of this fear,… there is only to gain.

If you do start practicing this skill, you might know a few new people within days, have close friends in a few months. And an amazing social life in a year!

In practice, you will find that most of your fears were unfounded! Fear and suffering are mostly conjured up by your vivid imagination.

imagination land singing

2. How to approach people

2.1 Focus on how you talk and do

First things first. How to start a conversation with someone new.

Like most informal communication, how you say things is more important than what you say. You might feel you’re going to say something wrong. But focus more on style than on content.

If you are going to strike up a conversation. Be casual about it. Look for clues people are open for conversation.

When they display closed body language. Stop. Never mind, wait or look for someone more open. Do they display a more relaxed attitude? Go for it.

Establish eye contact and smile warmly. Then approach and introduce yourself. Take it easy and don’t be pushy.

Be the first to smile. You’ll see that most people easily smile back at you :)!

2.2 The simple approach

Approach people from the front. Not from their backs, as it is intimidating if you come up in their blind spot.

So you walk up. And you say:

“Hi, what’s up?”

It doesn’t have to be elaborate at all. You can just say, hi, hey, hello or any other variant of the word you’d like. Ask how they are, introduce yourself, or start chatting away. Just say something.

“Hey, how are you? I am [player 1]. Something.”

2.3 What to say to start a conversation

Wait? Back up, back up. 'Just say something?' What are you supposed to talk about? You don’t have a clue.

Well, it can be anything. Remember style is more important. Try to be as confident and casual as possible. May not work the first few times. But over time you will feel more relaxed while doing this. Here is a list of examples.

You can talk about them:

“Hey where did you get that [item] you’re wearing?”
“How are you doing?”
“May I ask you opinion on [non-taboo subject]?”

Ask small general stuff:

“Hey, you know the time?”
“Can you tell me directions to […]?”
“Do you know when this place closes?”

Comment about shared experience:

“How was the traffic?”
“Isn’t this a beautiful [setting]?”
“Wow, awesome building right, have you been here before?”

Comment ask about the social setting

“Hey, how do you know the host?”
“You come here more often?”
“So this is a crazy crowd right?”
“So what do you think of this [event/setting]?”

Talk about common interests

“Did you see the game last night?”
“Nice weather right?”
“So what do you think of the mayor?”

Some of these seem boring – and I guess some are. But it is an easy non-threatening way to start a conversation. You can make it as heated and interesting as you want later.

2.4 Deeper subjects, connections and groups

Though I recommend you don’t start off with too heavy, crazy or controversial subjects. You want to meet people. Not immediately irritate them. First practice mundane low key openers. Later you ask about their spirit animal and lightsaber color.

When people reciprocate, you can escalate into some banter or small talk. Try to make people comfortable. By being genuinely interested in them. Asking open-ended questions.

When trying to enter a group conversation, look if there is a possibility to join. Then bluntly state your arrival by jumping in the conversation. Or you can introduce yourself first – and join the banter.

“Sorry for barging in, but I’d like to add…”
“What are you guys talking about, mind if I join the conversation?”

Then listen and start participating in the conversation.

3. Brand new settings for your mind

If you want to start applying these techniques effectively, you may want to lose some limiting scripts. You might conceptualize yourself still in terms as: “I am not good enough to have friends” “I am just the quiet guy.” Or any other negative way you think about yourself.

Bad Brain!

Screw that old programming. That isn’t helping. Besides, it is not true. You can change – but part of that is upgrading your mental configuration.

So let’s start applying some more helpful mindsets.

How the fuck are you supposed to apply a new mindset?

By memorizing them. Then thinking about them at the right time, considering how they can be applied. Then gradually start acting in concurrence with them. Until they become your primary mode.

Here are some constructive mindsets to start with:

1. I am detached from the outcome
2. I tolerate rejection
3. I let others talk second
4. It is always like meeting my best friend

Let's look at them in detail:

Mindset 1 – I am detached from the outcome

Start approaching people without expecting a direct result.

It may give you a small courageous endorphin boost. You may have an awesome meeting at once. But maybe you need time to learn and adapt.

Skill and tolerance built over time. So for now, detach yourself from the direct outcome. Be it positive or negative. Do it for the sake of practice.

Mindset 2 – I tolerate rejection

Sometimes people are not into talking. Recognizes when people are, so you can excuse yourself.

People can be distracted. Lost in thought, or waiting for someone else. No biggie. Maybe they are not interested in talking to you. They might have a bad day. Or they are just an ass.

No problem, it doesn’t matter. It's not about you.

When people don’t reciprocate, excuses yourself and stop. No harm was done.

Don’t try to force it. Especially if you have tried it before with someone. If people don’t want to talk. Let it be.

It may hurt – but accept this rejection. Tolerate, grow and learn from it.

Mindset 3 – I let others talk second

Make it your priority that others have the second word and you the first.

So you force yourself to start conversations. They can add. Most people don’t feel like starting conversations with strangers. That is okay – you will.

They can be the second one to talk.

Mindset 4 – It always is like meeting my best friend

This is a nice little trick. Imagine how you would act towards your best friend.

Assume people are that awesome buddy of yours. If you can trick yourself, you feel relaxed and confident around new people. Making them lower their barriers. It’s actually easier to have a conversation this way!

It might be tricky the first time. But give it a go. It is very amusing, if you act this way, you can drag others in your illusion and both enjoy each others company more.

4. Taking Action

So we talked about mindsets to adopt, what to say and about the fear around talking to strangers.

Let’s start to build up some tolerance. If you want to start talking to strangers out of the blue from now on great! But if you want to ease into it, you are going to practice.

You will learn this social skill step by step. Until you are strengthened by all your progress, so you can strike up a conversation with anyone!

4.1 Training Scheme

This is the training program you can follow. You can always adjust and do a more advanced version of this if you’d like.

  • Week 1 – say hi to 3 random people every day
  • Week 2 – say hi to 6 random people every day
  • Week 3 – ask for the time from 3 people every day
  • Week 4 – ask for directions from 3 people every day
  • Week 5 – say hi and give a small compliment to 3 people every day
  • Week 6 – have a small conversation with 3 people every day
  • Week 7 – say hi, compliment 5 people and have a small conversation every day
  • Week 8 – start seeing the results 🙂

How do you think you feel in week 8? It feels far away to even imagine talking to 5 people in one day. But I urge you to try!

Did you bail? Did you not make it? No biggie – try your week of challenges again till you can!

Gradually you will see things are way easier than they seem :)! You have built up your tolerance. You can swallow the poison. You can talk to anyone!

Let me know how things go!