How to start a conversation with someone new
Starting a conversation can be difficult but practice and experience can help to make it easier
Starting a conversation with someone new can be tough for some people, especially as you get older. Making the first move can be difficult but other people may also be nervous and might appreciate you making the effort to begin a conversation with them. Take little steps if you are nervous and gradually build up a relationship with someone who you think you might get along with. Everyone is different and if it doesn’t work out, you should still be proud of yourself for trying and putting yourself out there.
Starting a conversation
It might be daunting at first, but the more you put yourself out there, the easier it will be to start talking to new people. Just keep trying.
Approach someone who might be open to talk
If you want to start a conversation with someone, try to figure out if they are willing to talk. Someone might be busy with something else, be working on something on their phone or laptop, or might just not want to talk. Try to make eye contact and smile. If they smile back start by commenting on something related to your environment like the weather, or how long the check-out queue you are waiting in is.
Talk about anything
If you want to start a conversation, talk about the weather, how unreliable the bus is or anything that comes to mind. If you’re in a particular class or sport with someone it will be easier because you can talk about your homework or the league. The other person might appreciate the opportunity to have a conversation, but if they don't, don't worry. They could be shy or be distracted by other things in their life. It’s not a reflection on you.
Have ‘go-to’ topics
If you get anxious meeting new people and your mind goes blank it can help to have some ‘go-to’ topics to talk about. Memorise some questions or comments specifically for these kinds of situations. Remember to actually listen to their response though and not get too worried about what to say. Try to include some open ended questions that might get a conversation started rather than closed questions which have a simple yes/no answer. Here are some ideas for different situations:
- Do you know many people here?
- How do you know the host?
- Do you live nearby?
- Have you done this class/activity before?
- What other classes/activities do you do?
- Are you working or in college?
It’s easy to forget to introduce yourself when you’re already deep into conversation with someone. But if you do think of it, it shows the other person you are interested in them as a person and might make future interactions more likely.
When you start talking to someone new you might be nervous and end up talking too much. Try to take the time to listen to them too. Respond to things they say and ask questions.
Find out more about being a good listener.
Try not to overshare
If it’s your first time talking to someone remember to keep the conversation light and general. Be careful not to get too personal too soon. This might make the other person uncomfortable and they might not know what to say. If you get nervous and can’t think of anything to say, you might accidentally overshare. Try to be aware of it and learn from experience.
Exchange details or organise to do something outside of where you met
If you enjoyed the other person's company and felt the conversation went well you could suggest going for a coffee another time, or even just exchange numbers or connect on social media. If they don’t want to, try not to take it personally, as difficult as this can be - it can take time for some people to feel comfortable giving this information to someone new.
Have a look at our video about connecting to people around you for more tips.
If it doesn’t work out
You have no way of knowing how an interaction will go. It can be difficult to deal with feeling rejected by someone after reaching out to them. But try not to get upset or discouraged. Not everyone is open to chat and people might have other things on their minds.
Try not to blame yourself
If you start a conversation with someone and it doesn't work out, try not to blame yourself. The person you tried to chat to might be busy with something else going on in their life. Someone might experience social anxiety and struggle to engage in a conversation with a stranger. Some people just aren’t interested in talking to strangers. None of these things are a reflection on you. So long as you take steps to make sure someone is comfortable and respect their boundaries if they make it clear they don’t want to chat, you shouldn’t feel bad for trying.
Don’t feel bad about it
If you think you said or did something inappropriate, recognise this and learn from it so that you don’t do it again next time, but try not to dwell on it. People make mistakes all the time. You can be proud of yourself for trying to start a conversation. Recognise the mistake that you made and learn from it.
If you experience social anxiety remind yourself that you don’t lack social skills, you just struggle to talk with people you aren’t comfortable with. If you are worried that you do struggle with social skills you could look up some information online about developing your social skills or look up a course.
Reflect and learn from it
Reaching out to a stranger, especially if you experience social anxiety, is a huge step. Even if it doesn’t work out there is a lot you can learn from the experience.
If someone shut down your attempt to start a conversation, ask yourself some questions about the interaction:
- Did you notice anything about them?
- What was their body language like?
- What were they doing?
These could be clues as to why they didn’t want to talk.
If you feel that something you said may have caused the issue, ask yourself about that.
- Could you have said what you said in a different, more acceptable way?
- Is it something that someone might feel more comfortable talking about if you get to know each other a bit better?
Try to recognise the progress that you made by trying to start a conversation. Even if it didn't work out, reflect on what you gained from the experience such as:
- How to deal with rejection
- How to manage your social anxiety, if you experience it
- What situations you are most comfortable starting conversations in
Getting help for your social anxiety
If you feel that you need support for your social anxiety you could consider joining a social anxiety group where you will meet people who understand what it’s like. If you want to talk to someone about it counselling might help. For more information about social anxiety have a look at socialanxietyireland.com.
These opinion pieces might also interest you:
- Making friends at college
- An experience of Social Anxiety Disorder
- Tips for making friends in college if you're shy or introverted