Help me break the ice with strangers!
June 24, 2009 11:33 PM   Subscribe

I want to be more extroverted and confident and practice starting conversations with strangers... what are some good conversation openers? Tips?

I'm female if that makes a difference. Would like to talk to random cute guys with view to potentially picking up but also just generally be confident enough to strike up a brief conversation with a random person while I'm out and about and rack up some practice. Looking for good conversation openers and tips in general.
posted by Chrysalis to Human Relations (17 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Listen around first, and then chime in with something relevant. Or just walk up and say "Hi, I'm Chrysalis, what's your name?" Let a guy talk a bit. Ask what they do, come up with ways to relate it to what you do or are interested in. Talk a bit about yourself, lather, rinse, repeat.

Deep breath, and just say hi. Smile. Relax. :-)
posted by disillusioned at 11:39 PM on June 24, 2009

Response by poster: Actually, doesn't even have to be conversations... just little interactions... some of the ideas in this situational comments thread were good

Just generally want to practice making little connections with random people for fun, be it on the train, in the street, at the shops, at a bar - where ever!
posted by Chrysalis at 11:39 PM on June 24, 2009

My partner is pretty good at this; one thing I've noticed is that it doesn't take much pretext to start up a conversation. Someone's mildly amusing shirt, some minor bit of weather, anything from your immediate surroundings that is the least bit interesting. I think most people just like to talk, and don't mind if the initial conversational gambit is short on substance. Smiling a lot helps too, of course.

(I, on the other hand, am terrified that trying to do this will result in people becoming angry at me for interrupting their day, so I will be following this thread with interest.)
posted by fermion at 11:55 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're a woman. You're (very likely) non-threatening. Guys love talking to girls.

All you need to do is smile, say hi, and then keep the conversation going if he doesn't: ""hi, I'm new in town, what's a good place to get a drink/buy a book/feed the ducks/take a walk?" "oh really, do you go there/do that often?" "I'm really enjoying talking to you, do you want to sit down and get a coffee?"
posted by orthogonality at 11:59 PM on June 24, 2009

Go to Starbucks, order some coffee, and chat with the Barista. They're hired in part for their ability to connect, discover, and respond to the clientele. They also come complete with topics (coffee [the big one—they should be able to tell you whatever you want to know], drinks, people, etc.) and spend time talking to lots of people. They're good practice.

More general advice: ask questions. There are a zillion aspects to a human being. The one you want to chat with has selected one, a few, or many to present as interesting to other humans. You yourself have particular preferences for traits that interest you. Between those two factors, you should be able to come up with something to ask a guy that you wouldn't mind knowing and he wouldn't mind telling you about. So ask.
posted by carsonb at 1:15 AM on June 25, 2009

Try commenting on the thing the person is looking at. Even if it's just the wall! Instant common ground. I only do this if the person is giving cues that they're open to conversation, e.g. smiling, looking around, making eye contact, being in a social setting (party, pub etc).

They're hired in part for their ability to connect, discover, and respond to the clientele.

This is a revelation! I sometimes nip into Starbucks for a cheeky chocolate medallion on my way back from lunch and I'm often alarmed by the excessive 'meet and greet' I'm subjected to at the counter. Now I get it - I'm being 'discovered'! I find this a bit irritating. I think spontaneous conversation only works when people have a genuine interest in engaging on some level.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:28 AM on June 25, 2009

It's really up to you. People can feel it, how much you really want to talk with them, or don't. It comes across in about 1,746 ways, all but one of those subliminal, and I forget which one that was. But it doesn't matter, regardless, because they'll feel that you're not really engaged, if in fact you are not.

But if you are engaged, if you can discipline yourself to hang in with this person, hang in until they feel/understand that you're not going to bolt out the door any second, that you really do want to talk to them, then they will talk to you. People want to talk but only if they are going to be listened to, paid attention to. You can't do this with one foot in and one foot headed somewheres else, you've got to be planted, right there with them.

Some days it's no problem for me at all, other days I'm skittish as a colt on a cold morning.

Often I'm skittish around pretty women, not so much as when I was younger but it's still there, or it's still there sometimes; I walk up and say "Jesus, but aren't you darling!" and then, for whatever reason, or for no reason at all, my confidence vanishes and I'm left standing there scratching myself, gaping, and this poor gal is looking at me like "wtf?" and sortof edging away. I'd expect you might find it the same around 'random cute guys' or you might find it that way at least part of the time.

I hate that part.

But that doesn't happen every time, some days with some gals we're just chatting away, it's a fun piece of my day and a fun piece in their day also, if it's done right, a bit of luck, a bit of panache, wearing a shirt I really like maybe. And I surely do like that part.

It's sales, is what it is, cold-calling, which might be the roughest piece in sales; seems to me it'd have to be. A lot of people don't want to see you at all, you're the fourteenth sales person in the door that day and they don't even see you, they just see another interruption to their day, it's nothing personal when they tell you to buzz off, but it's hard not to take it personal.

Pretty women and 'cute random guys' get lots of sales pitches every dang day, so they're going to be on edge, you've got to be totally sincere and fearless and present or they'll see it and smell it coming off you like smoke off a grease fire, and they'll tell you to buzz off.

The easiest to connect with are children, old people, and dogs. Children haven't learned yet to keep a solid boundary against any and all strangers, old people have learned to soften the boundaries they've built over a lifetime if they see that you are sincere, and dogs just don't have those sorts of boundaries, they're just all the time festive, all the time ready to be sociable.

This can be learned, it's not something genetic that only certain people have; I know that because most of what I know I've taught myself, it didn't come to me naturally. It's not the easy way but it's a good way, so much I'd have missed out on had I not learned to walk up and say hello.

Last. It's like standing at a card table, and hand after hand you're folding, you're just not getting the cards, some asshole the other end of the table is winning hand after hand, he's laughing it up, having a time, you want to go choke him. But you know for a fact that your cards are going to fall, it's a matter of time; your job is to stand at that table until they do, then play them well.

Have fun!
posted by dancestoblue at 3:59 AM on June 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

Can you be funny? Little jokes about the situation you and a stranger are both in (the heat today, the crowd in this supermarket, that ridiculous movie poster etc. etc.) can break ice well, most people respond wonderfully. Just be prepared that no matter how funny you are/try to be, sometimes it simply fails (some people have no sense of humor, or are having a Terrible Day, or whatever) and all you can do is shrug and move on. You tried!

If you're not so much about the funny, consider the value of the sympathetic listener. Ask questions, and care about the answers as though this stranger were a dear friend. This one can backfire into Too Much Information pretty easily, but you gotta admit even that's a case of 'broken ice.' And it will dramatically increase the number of bizarre secrets you know about people.

Practice with everybody, all the time. Then when a random cute guy heaves into view, you'll be comfortable with this sort of thing.
posted by tomboko at 5:46 AM on June 25, 2009

I work in business and can have conversations with anyone about anything. I schmooze with the best of them. So this article by Ben Stein is pretty good for that.

But the rules he gives are not necessarily limited to just business. I generally try to follow this advice; although I'm not strict about the "10 steps" it does provide some insight into the basic structure of a good conversation.

You will meet people with various insecurities about other people that you must overcome. People are generally wary of new people, I find. Only with practice can you learn to power through this. The best advice I got for approaching women was from a PUA friend who said: "Think of all the men that have hit on her, she's got more practice at this (shrugging off suitors) than you have. You need to catch up." So practice.
posted by teabag at 5:54 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Applicable in many situations, especially around campus, is "hi, I've seen you around a lot, but don't know who you are. I'm Jacen."

More presumptuously, but good for establishing social proof when it's applicable, is "hi, I know pretty much everyone around here/on campus/in this dorm/etc., but somehow I don't know you. I'm Jacen."

(Body/facial language is obviously important; when I write these out on the internet they both sound vaguely threatening, i.e. "do I know you? What're you doing here, when I've never seen you before?" But with a smile, tilted head, etc. they come across as intended.)
posted by Jacen Solo at 7:05 AM on June 25, 2009

Dont start at a bar. Start on the street, metro, work, grocery store. The stupidest things always work:

"what time is it"
"Which one of these tomatoes you think is good?"
"Do you know how long it is to Foggy Bottom?"

A receptive demeanor (smile, open body language, voice inflection) when done in a genuine manner is the key to meeting people.
posted by stratastar at 7:19 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just talk to myself out loud and people seem to join in.

It seems like people are more open to chat when I direct conversation at the shared space around me.

The supermarket is a good place for this because 1. everybody has opinions on food and 2. there are tons of easy questions you can ask that others can answer. Just don't do a MeFi, where you try this: "I'm trying to figure out how gravity impacts the emulsification of this recipe for Hollandaise sauce at high altitude. What do you think, this extra virgin olive oil or that walnut oil if I'm living in Denver and preparing the sauce when the weather is warm and humid?" :)

The other thing is internalize (and remember) how YOU feel when others strike up a random conversation with you. Feels good for the most part, doesn't it. (Granted, if you live in a place like Seattle, where no one talks to anyone, when it does happen, it's like the Twilight Zone cometh.)

That's what I try to remember: People like being spoken to, like being asked for their opinions, so ask them.

nthing stratastar's "receptive deameanor", adding vocal speed. You need to speak as fast or as slow as the person you're speaking to. That's one thing that's really tripping me up in Denver. People......taaaaaaalk......slooooooooooooow. I talk PacNW fast and people want to run from me and hide.
posted by foooooogasm at 8:07 AM on June 25, 2009

I love doing this and I think it really depends on my mood. Conversations are struck when I'm feeling particularly positive or full of energy and I just want to share with those in my immediate space. These will last 30 seconds to 5 minutes depending on the situation. In no particular order:

- People love giving their opinion so I usually open with my own observation like, "Wow, how pretty" or "I wonder how they did that?" and a natural conversation ensues about whatever you're both looking at.

- Ask for advice. I had a nice conversation with a cyclist while following his route (way safer than mine) out of downtown. Look for a common interest and start asking questions about that.

- Avoid striking up a conversation with people who look like they are in bad moods (unless you like that sort of thing). These are the people who sigh heavily in the line behind you while the person in front of you is counting out their change. To me, they don't seem open to a new experience at that moment and I don't want to be a part of their negativity.

- If you're worried about trying any of this, realize that you're not a focal point of a stranger's day if they are not receptive to what you're doing. If you try to strike up a conversation and the other person doesn't reciprocate, believe me, they won't give you another moment's thought after you've gone. Sure, it might bruise your ego a bit to know that you tried to reach out to someone and you might feel silly for having tried, however, at least you tried and made an attempt to enrich your life with expanding your boundaries.

- I find that I'm more outgoing and adventurous when I'm away from my routine things/places. Try going somewhere new or pick up a new hobby. Telling someone that this is the first time you've done/been to "X" will get them talking.

Granted, if you live in a place like Seattle, where no one talks to anyone, when it does happen, it's like the Twilight Zone cometh.

I had a pretty crazy night out in Seattle with some fun gay theatre actors because I talked to a guy at a coffee shop. You never know where things will lead. Take a chance!

Good luck! Have fun!
posted by KathyK at 8:52 AM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

How to talk like a Canadian: (or the mystery of eh?)

Stop what you are doing and make a comment about the obvious, so - "Hot enough for ya? (eh?) or "Laundry day eh?" or "I'm reading Infinite Jest too- I love Hal's character (Iz a big book eh?)

That's it. Soliciting peoples comments is strait forward - you are inviting them in with simple questions.
posted by zenon at 9:28 AM on June 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

1) You're not going to become more extroverted. What you're going to become is more socially confident and more able to open conversations. There is a difference between these two terms. I am introverted and at the same time I'm fairly socially confident and able to have a conversation. Having a conversation just exhausts the fuck out of me and I need a lot more me-time than a lot of people.

2) I've opened many a conversation with strangers by making a comment about something they're reading, something they're wearing, current events, etc. Probe their brain. Make them think.
posted by kldickson at 9:39 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Absolutely you can become more extroverted; don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I've done it myself, and it's one of the best things I've ever done for myself and for the people around me.

Here are some basic classes of conversational openers, off the top of my head:
1. Functional - "What time is it?" "How do I get to Main Street from here?" Basically they can't refuse the interaction, as it'd be terribly rude. It's boring, it's low risk, but it's better than nothing. If the guy is sharp (and interested), he'll pick up the conversation from there.
2. Situational - "That's a great shirt; where'd you get it?" "Awesome band -- where are they from?" I think you gotta be fairly decent at improv conversation or these will dead-end quickly. But as always, the more you practice, the better you get. These are my favorite, as they are most people's.
3. Opinion - "My friend Sara's boyfriend is mad at her because of X, and I wanted to get a guy's perspective..." Probably best to followup one of the others with something like this. I've used it to revive a dying conversation but that's about it.

There are other types, but them's the easy ones. (See Savoy's "Magic Bullets" *cough*torrent*cough* for way more info on opening conversations, keeping in mind that you can ignore all the "social proof" stuff -- a woman's appearance IS her social proof.) The main thing is practice, practice, practice. I try to open conversations and have fun, positive interactions wherever I go -- keeps me social and well-practiced for when it Really Matters, and it makes life way more fun!

So you want to be a Lady Pick-up Artist, huh? GOOD FOR YOU! I wish more women were good at this rather than passively sitting back, looking pretty, and waiting to be approached. But if Metafilter explodes from the cognitive dissonance -- PUAs are *pure evil*, but she's a woman so it's empowering! -- I know who to come talking to...
posted by LordSludge at 12:00 PM on June 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty good at this.

Best thing to do is to comment on something that's going on in front of you. Barring that, pick some interesting object in the vicinity that you can make a novel comment about.

Be witty and humerous. Even if the first thing you say isn't laugh-out-loud funny, once you get the conversation started you're bound to say something interesting or original. People will usually give you a chance.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:11 PM on June 27, 2009

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