Whether it’s the hot brunette with the glasses who sits behind you in class that you wish you could ask out or the guy you’re stuck next to in line waiting for the ticket window to open, you want find common ground, areas that both of you can relate to. These commonalities help build a rapport with the people you want to connect to. When you’re flirting with someone, it helps build an emotional connection between the two of you. When you’re chatting with strangers, it helps make you both feel more comfortable with one another.
This doesn’t have to be anything terribly deep or profound; it’s just something that means the two of you are more alike than you previously thought. Maybe you were born in the same town or went to the same college. Maybe you work in the same industry. Are the two of you at a party? You have something in common, especially if you both know the host… or if you don’t for that matter. At a bar? You both like booze! In class together? Well hell, this one should be obvious.
Both of you are guys? Hey, I’m sure you can find something, whether it’s sports, action movies or a general appreciation of boobs.1
Avoid Danger Topics
While it’s good to keep a conversation flowing, you want to stay away certain contentious topics; after all, you have no idea how your newfound conversation partner feels about controversial subjects and the last thing you want to do is trigger an argument. So unless you have a pretty good idea of where you both stand – or that you can both agree to disagree with no hard feelings – it’s best to avoid politics and religion. Especially in an election year when things are already getting a little heated.
Yes, sometimes it can be difficult to avoid talking about these things. Sometimes you may be dealing with a loudmouth who’s determined to talk about it. The best thing you can do here is either pretend to not have an opinion or try to change the topic to something else. Anything else.
STRANGER: Don’t you agree that all Pacific Islanders, Communists, Mormons and Navajo Indians should be forcibly sterilized and sent to work camps?
YOU: Hey, who likes boobies? I know I do!
Know When It’s To Leave
It’s nice that you may be having a good time talking with someone, but it can be incredibly easy to overstay one’s conversational welcome. You need to keep an eye out for the signs. If you’re both hitting that awkward conversational pause that starts with “So….” and your partner isn’t really making an effort to keep the conversation going, it’s time to gracefully make your excuses and bow out.
Similarly, if you notice that they’re starting to shift uncomfortably, checking their watch or casting their gaze around the room as though they were looking for someone (or a convenient excuse), it’s time to go.
In general, it’s better to be the one to end the conversation; you will seem like less of a boor and knowing when to leave is a sign of social intelligence – something that’s quite attractive. If you’re staying in until the bitter end – defined here as the other person is desperately trying to find a socially acceptable reason to leave – you’re going to ruin any good will you may have built up earlier and leave them with the impression that you’re kind of oblivious to how others feel.
A handy rule of thumb: it’s always better to leave them wanting more than to stick around longer than you should. Leaving on a high note can leave them with a favorable impression of you. It can even make them want to talk to you more… handy if you’re talking to someone you’re attracted to or looking for networking opportunities.
Talk To Strangers
Being able to strike up a conversation with strangers is a valuable skill-set to have. The more comfortable you are with initiating conversations, the less approach anxiety you will feel when you’re trying to chat up the people you’re attracted to. After all, it’s just part of who you are! You’ll find that conversations flow smoother and you won’t be worrying about running out of things to say.
In addition, being able to talk to anyone means you have more networking opportunities. Racking up contacts and connections is an incredibly valuable commodity; even if you don’t see yourself needing them right now, they may well have the connections you’ll need in the future. Today’s stranger could very well be tomorrow’s provider of start-up capital. Or the guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who can get you that meeting you want. Or they may have someone that you need to meet…
Get out there and strike up a conversation today.
- Stereotypes are FUN, yo! [↩]