That's more like it!
Meeting someone for the first time and starting a conversation can be very daunting, especially when you consider that we, as humans, are biologically programmed to be socially inclined, yet we are raised in a society where “stranger danger” and being told not to approach people we don’t know is not safe. How confusing! So what do you do? How do you overcome your fear of rejection and work up the courage to approach someone? Here are some ideas.
If you have done your “self work” you’re likely going to be approaching someone who appears to have what you’re looking for in a potential partner. How do you approach them? A great place to begin is by making some eye contact. Staring is not a good idea; it is creepy and will guarantee that you don’t get anywhere. Take a short glance in their direction and make a quick observation about them, particularly looking for signs of shared interests, such as reading a book you like, a shirt with a favourite band on it, something else that seems interesting that you could talk about such as if they are carrying art supplies, a musical instrument, or wearing a costume as if at a convention. Use this information to plan your actual approach. Starting a conversation is all about reading body language, which can be a real pain to do especially if this is an area where you struggle. If they return your look and then look away, or if they smile, it’s a good sign they are open to your approach and may be interested in you in return. Give a smile and return their glance, but don’t stare!
At this point you are likely starting to think of all the things that could go wrong and your body is reacting. Be aware of the rising anxiety and let yourself be ok with it. Remember, it is fine to be nervous; also remember that any person you approach will be initially surprised and nervous as well. That is fine too! And normal! Your focus is on the other person and making them comfortable. If you convey confidence and a sense of calm, you will help them feel good too. Starting a conversation is meant to be fun and enriching! Likely they may respond with gestures and body language that may seem like they want to run, such as wide eyes, taking a step back, laughing nervously, clenching their hands close, making a response like a sound or not even responding initially. That is fine and normal.
So what do you say?! Often times you’ll hear something like “Oh just introduce yourself and offer a handshake”. That’s a great idea, yet we know that it doesn’t work this way in real life. How would you respond if a random stranger just walks up to you and says “Hi my name is Bill and blah, blah, blah…”? You might very well feel ambushed or trapped in a conversation you do not want. So what do you do? Use your savvy! You did your self-work and determined a potential area of shared interest or something that made you curious and you want to know more. How have you approached other people before? How would you want to be approached for conversation? Natural right? What is natural for you? You might try something like “Excuse me, but I noticed you are reading (insert whatever it is here)” or something like “Excuse me is that (insert what it is you are making an observation of)”. Remember to speak as you would to a friend or someone you are on friendly terms with. How do you talk to your friends and other people when you are comfortable? Try to be aware of this when starting your conversation and remember to smile (not constantly because that is creepy too); you’ll be fine! Here are some additional suggestions for initiating a conversation.
Smile: Don’t approach someone like you’re afraid they will bite your head off. Smile and it will be more comfortable for you and the other person
Having a conversation involves both people: You may start the conversation, yet to be successful they need to participate. Listen to their response and focus on what they say.
Be Interested: You approached them to start a conversation for a reason. Now really listen to what they say. Asking about them shows you are genuinely curious about what they have to say and shows that you care about something more than hearing yourself talk.
Expand the conversation: A conversation like personal boundaries is limited by the constrictions and rules you place on it. Just like boundaries, conversations can shift and grow. Use open questions to grow your conversation! “What other types of music do you like?”
Check yourself: When talking, it is easy to get really nervous and want to focus on yourself as an extension of being inwardly focused on your fears of messing up. It’s ok! Focus on how you can respond without saying too much. Details are great in moderation! If they want to know more, they will let you know.
Laugh: If something is funny and not something about the other person. Laugh! Laughing together helps build stronger connections.
It’s not personal: It really isn’t. Maybe the other person is having a bad day or they simply aren’t in a mood to talk. Don’t get discouraged by this. move on because you can do better than annoying someone by trying to force a conversation. What would feel worse to you? using your savvy and recognizing that now might not be a good time or pushing someone to talk and getting a negative response?
Train yourself: Visualize yourself as friendly, calm, smiling, and genuinely pleased to be speaking to this person. How do you look to yourself? if you like what you see, you’re doing well!
Edmonds, G., & Worton, D. (2005). The Asperger love guide: A practical guide for adults with Asperger’s syndrome to seeking, establishing and maintaining successful relationships. London: Sage Publications.
Plank, A. (Director). (2012). How to Flirt and Get a Date [Motion picture]. United Staes of America: Www.wrongplanet.net.
Tyrrell, M. (2015). Be a great conversation starter: Talk to strangers with ease. Retrieved September 19, 2015.