Meaningful Conversations With Strangers
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Our lives are rich with situations that involve interacting with strangers. Whether by choice or as a product of circumstance, these exchanges shouldn't be undervalued or overlooked. They are real opportunities to improve your overall networking ability and stimulate your social life. Every conversation is practice and with enough practice you can become incredibly skilled at striking up great conversations and quickly building rapport, leading to sales, opportunities, relationships or social excitement. But don't expect to always feel comfortable starting a conversation. That's not the point. The point is to become better over time. Eventually, you will become noticeably more confident and feel much more comfortable and consequently more successful at avoiding awkwardness and creating meaningful conversations.
Use Your Environment
It's not always easy striking up good conversation with someone you just met or someone you want to meet. Different scenarios will often call for different approaches. While complimentary and humorous openings are popular, they may not always be appropriate so let your environment be your guide. Search your surroundings for relevant or appropriate topics.
Founder of Empty Nest Support Services and former speech and Language Therapist, Natalie Caine suggests politely cutting into someone else's conversation (use judgement on appropriateness). "Try jumping in and taking a small risk." Excuse yourself for cutting in and explain that you overheard them talking and then add something useful or intelligent to their conversation. "I have never had anyone walk away or say, 'that was rude that you listened to our conversation'. Communication takes courage and confidence, topped with real listening and the intent for meaning in the moment."
Once you find yourself engaged in a conversation, ask questions. Proper questioning gives positive feedback to the speaker and reassures them of your interest. Safe, non-invasive respectful questions will lead to deeper discussions about challenges, joys, milestones and disappointments.
If you're feeling brave or have trouble maintaining a conversation, you may consider trying this. Tammy Gentry, Owner of CMD Gifts and creator of Penny Stones* (a conversational prop), says that when used in a respectful manner, props can be an interesting and fun way to get people talking. "Penny Stones, [for example], are ice breakers on glass stones. Each person picks a stone and answers the question such as 'what superpower would you like to have' or 'what's your favourite summer memory'. Before you know it, everyone is sharing, relating, talking and laughing."
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