Previous: Become Assertive
If you know how to socialise, you'll be more successful in life. Not just with people you already know, but with strangers as well. If you know how to make contact, it will be a lot easier to build a social environment from which to get inspiration and support. By talking to other people, you expand your horizon, and learn new insights and experiences. No less than 90% of people have a hard time socialising and making small talk with strangers. At a reception where you know no one, at the pub while your friend is talking to someone else, at a meeting where you have to network: you might feel awkward and inhabited.
Insecurity – what will people think of me? – and the fear of rejection make you want to hide in a corner instead of talking to other people. That way you only socialise with a small group of friends and family, while you might like to talk to someone else or make new friends. You play safe, while new contacts can open an entire new world.
It's possible the other person doesn't want to talk to you, or there's no click. This tends to diminish confidence: apparently you're not interesting enough and the other person doesn't want to get to know you. Therefore many people are reserved, even though they'd like to be different.
That's a shame really, because it's highly likely other people at e.g. that reception feel the same way. They probably think you don't want to talk to them, and are afraid to start a conversation. In reality, most people are glad to be spoken to. That way they've got someone to talk to, and don't have to mingle, searching for someone to talk to themselves.
Shy people in particular find it very hard to start a conversation. This is because they've got a negative self image. They think they're not good enough, and they're very demanding of themselves socially. They think they've got to get along with everyone, be popular and have oodles of friends. Because of the pressure they put on themselves, they lack spontaneity and become shy. For these kinds of people, it's very important to work on step 2: self esteem.
Starting a conversation: tips and tricks
Whether you're shy or not, it becomes easier making contact with these tips and tricks.
Watch your body language. Making contact doesn't start with words, it starts with body language. It's best to be open and inviting: hold your arms next to your body. Straighten your back and smile. That way you'll come across a lot friendlier than with your arms crossed and an unhappy face. The same is true for the person you'd like to talk to. How does this person come across? Does he or she seem susceptible? If you see someone you like, make eye contact. You'll know instantly whether the other person is in the mood for conversation: does he or she look back in a friendly way or does he or she look away?
Keep it simple. People worry too much about the content of that first conversation. They want to make a good impression, and don't want to look stupid or boring. People think they need to talk about 'important' matters, like politics, art or philosophy. This idea puts them under a lot of pressure, and might lead to fear of failure. Try to look for inspiration in your environment. If you're at an exhibition, look around. What do you see (beautiful paintings), smell (the smell of coffee) or hear (music by Bach)? Other people are probably experiencing the same, and it provides for a subject of conversation. "Don't you agree it's hot / cold / crowded / beautiful?" or "How do you like this painting?" are some opening sentences you could use.
Encourage yourself. If you don't know what to say, it's difficult to approach someone. Try to think: that seems like a nice person, I'll just try and talk to them. Or: if it doesn't work out, I'll talk to someone else later on.
Once you've started the conversation, use open questions. Ask: "How do you like that painting?" instead of: "It's a nice painting, don't you agree?" Closed questions only require a short yes / no answer, and tend to shorten the conversation. Open questions on the other hand stimulate a more elaborate answer, and keep the conversation going.
Listen. Some people seem to think they've got to talk in order to avoid silences. Other people might get bored having to listen all the time though. It's equally important to listen. Other people like being listened to, and they like being asked questions. If someone pays attention to you, you also appreciate this gesture of showing interest.
Think back of two situations in which you felt awkward because you didn't have someone to talk to. Why was it so difficult for you to make contact? What did you say to yourself that made you back off? What should you have said to yourself? Looking back, how could you have talked to someone in that situation?
Take the lead. Think of two situations you might encounter in the near feature, like a birthday party, a reception at work or some other party. Intend to start a conversation with someone you don't know. Don't wait for others to start conversation, but take the initiative. Already think about what you could use for an opening sentence.
Possible opening sentences
At a birthday party: How do you know X?
In a museum: What do you think of this painting?
Arriving somewhere: That was quite the thunder storm, eh?
At a public space: Have you been here before?
At a work meeting: What are you working on?
In a crowded space: It's rather crowded here, eh?
At a concert: How do you like the music?
At the gym: Do you know how this works?
Waiting for food: Are you hungry as well?