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Talking to People You Don't Know

Over the last few decades I have seen the results of Fear Poles. Enviably the Fear of Public Speaking would be in the top three on the lists. Often, Public Speaking would be listed higher than The Fear of Death. This makes sense because you only die once and no one really grasps that it is going to happen to them today -- but giving a talk at the office could happen any time, any day, on the whim of unpredictable people in positions of power.

Meeting new people at a business gathering or social event is not that much different -- at least in the Fear Factor area. Instead of being placed in front and lit up for ridicule. Social parties are more like "Snakes on a Plane". The whole thing feels stupid, but those are still snakes and you are still trapped on a plane.

Here is a list of tips I picked up somewhere and formatted up into a note I discovered today. It crossed my mind that these are good guidlines for Characters and MCs as a novel writer as well as for the Meet&Greet we are forced into attending periodically as part of the Life thing.
  1. Make eye contact. This is a great way to connect to someone. They know you are interested. Eye contact is used in almost everything: getting a waiter/waitress to come to your table, telling somebody to come over, or showing people you understand. If you want to get to know somebody better, eye contact will always be the first step.
  2. Smile. The law of reciprocity says to give what you want. You will be amazed how many people smile back if you smile at them. Be sure it is a relaxed smile. There really isn't a right or wrong way to smile, so relax.
  3. Say "Hey" or some other greeting. Be a little creative if you like, especially if you can determine with certainty his/her first language. Try to greet with that language. "Aloha" and "Guten Tag" are two favorites. Be careful not to make assumptions about an individual's language based solely upon his/her appearance, however, as he/she could be offended if you guess incorrectly. Be warned that the more creative you are, the more likely they are to not understand you.
  4. Evaluate the situation. If they are not maintaining eye contact with you, did not smile back, or did not respond to your greeting, then they may be otherwise distracted or this may not be a good time. If you will have an opportunity to talk to them soon (i.e. you see them on a regular basis) then you may want to wait. Otherwise continue.
  5. Maintain eye contact and keep smiling, but be relaxed. Maintaining eye contact shows you are interested and intent, and generally everyone likes a smile.
  6. Comment about something mutual: the weather, sports, work (if you work together), your location or situation (stuck in an elevator), traffic, etc. Talk about something you can both relate to, but not too personal. It's a great way to break the ice.
  7. Tell them your name. Again, on the law of reciprocity, if you offer your first and last name then they will typically tell you theirs. But, it's better to start with your first name.
  8. Offer your hand. If you offer your hand, then they will usually shake it.
  9. Ask them a question, especially about Family, Occupation or Recreation (remember what questions are FOR - see warnings). These are great things to ask questions about if you cannot think of anything else. It is important when asking questions that you are not interrogating them. Most people love to talk about themselves, but if they don't, then don't press them.
  10. Listen to what they say. Remember details. Ask more questions that show you were paying attention.
  11. Get a question in return. Eventually they will probably ask you a question, too (law of reciprocity). This is called a conversation. Answer their questions, but don't get too caught up talking about yourself..
Practice smiling and saying "Hello" with every stranger you meet. You will be surprised how many people respond positively. Practice "small talk" too. This will build your comfort level and help you be more relaxed. And you may make more new friends in this process.

Laugh at their jokes.

Remember, they are probably shy, too.

Be sincere.

As you get to know someone, they become more comfortable with you. The secret is to never push their comfort level.
Start talking to them from a safe distance, but not so far away that they cannot hear you. As they become more comfortable, you can move closer.
If they appear uncomfortable, then give them space and slow down.

If they are already speaking with somebody else, consider whether they would want you to break in to that conversation. Generally, if people are standing in a closed circle or making direct eye contact, the group is not ready to welcome newcomers. If they stand with a space in the circle, that is usually an invitation for others to join the group.

Remember what they say, and refer to it next time you talk to them. That will show you paid attention.

Think of how you would initially react when you recognize a familiar friend; your body orientation, eye movement, tone of voice, type of smile. Then try to mimic it upon meeting a stranger.

Don't take it personally if the individual is arrogant, sarcastic, immature, or otherwise rude in his/her initial reply. This is a sign of emotional immaturity and is usually a maladaptive defense mechanism. Confident, self-actualized people will always remain polite yet assertive even when approached by someone they don't have the least bit of interest in talking to. Simply laugh it off as if they told a joke and move on, paying them no more attention. They didn't tell a joke, of course: they were the joke.

Use the surroundings as a conversation starter for example you could comment the weather, you could comment on how expensive something might be. when it's all said and done as long as you're not disrespectful a nice and sincere person will reply to your comment.


Do not interrogate them.

Do not come across as a stalker, this will just freak them out.

Each step is designed to build on the increased comfort of the step before. If you start with asking them questions before you smile at them, then they are more likely to be uncomfortable.

Don't hesitate before you approach, either do it casually or move on. It comes off very creepy to have somebody eyeballing you for several minutes before they walk over.

Some people are shy and may not want to talk to you. People like this do not mean to be rude and you should not take it wrongly - they are just afraid of talking to strangers.

When using FOR, it's best not to start out with "Family". You never know if somebody passed away in their family either recently or even awhile back and mentioning it may make them sad. Chances are they won't get mad at you, (you didn't know) but their spirit will be brought down.

"Occupation" has its up's and down's, but it usually won't bring spirit down that much. The only problem with occupation is that, based on modern economic problems, they may have lost their jobs recently, but that is less common and usually will not make them feel down.

The best way to start is "Recreation." Nothing could possibly go wrong by asking "So, what's your favorite sport?" or "What do you like to do in your spare time?"


  1. Loud music makes the FOR process very difficult and awkward. I give up most of the time and move on.


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