Updated: Nov 6, 2022
As a project manager and a self-proclaimed introvert, I know how difficult it could be to talk to total strangers.
My job requires me to go to networking events, meet and greet clients and interview new recruits.
And oh boy - it's tough.
Every time I have to get over myself, put a smile on and jump straight into the deep.
And guess what?
The fake it till you make it approach is not terrible advice at all. Sometimes faking it is exactly what we need. It gives us time to assess situation and calm our nerves.
Another thing that helps me out a lot is to know a few tricks about people meeting new people, shyness and an art of communication. And those tricks I am going to share with you in this article, so buckle up!
As social beings, we need to know how to talk to strangers. Or we might become extinct.
And there is one tiny secret that I'd like to mention before we begin - everyone feels uneasy in a company of strangers.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), approximately 40% of all the adult population are shy to a certain extent.
So next time you feel uncomfortable in a company of strangers, remember, that almost half of them feel the same way you do.
And here are my 14 simple tips that will help you overcome shyness or discomfort when meeting new people:
1. Believe that the world is a friendly place.
Imagine that all the people you meet are friendly and communicative. They want to get to know you. They are interested in you. This simple thought could make starting conversations with people you don’t know a little bit easier.
2. Practice mindfulness.
Be present and be genuinely excited in getting to know someone. People can sense genuine attention. Everyone likes to be listened and attended to.
When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. - Ernest Hemingway
3. Help someone in need.
Talk to someone who looks even more uncomfortable or shy than you are. By initiating a friendly conversation with a person who also finds social interactions slightly uncomfortable, you will remove the significance of talking to a stranger and instead become a helping hand to someone else. Being helpful might actually give you enough confidence to speak to other people.
4. Come prepared.
Create a cheat sheet of questions you could ask someone you meet for the first time, for instance: what your hobbies are? This one from Shauna Douglas is very comprehensive.
5. Practice active listening skills.
Try listening attentively and ask questions based on what you have just heard instead of thinking about what to say next. Active listening is an excellent asset in combating shyness or feeling uncomfortable in social situations. It gives you a superpower that you can use, as few people listen carefully and hear what is being said.
Smile signals friendliness. It attracts people to us and makes us look approachable. Everyone wants to be friends with someone who looks approachable.
7. Practice small talk.
Make a habit of talking to people regularly, whether in real life or online. Create a habit of commenting on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter; leave product reviews or have a chitchat with a shop assistant while paying for your goods. These interactions will make it easier for you to start conversations with strangers and be yourself in various social settings.
Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.” - Jim Rohn
8. Master public speaking.
Join Toastmaster group or any other groups that require you to express your thoughts and meet new people. You could also look into joining theatre or improv groups as they help to overcome insecurities connected to talking to someone for the first time.
9. Be a conversation starter.
It is easier to be the first to say something, as then you are the one leading the conversation, at least at the beginning.
10. Master eye contact.
Look people in the eye. According to the British Psychological Society's BPS digest, avoiding eye contact sometimes signals that we are less sincere, and people might not trust us as a result. By looking people in the eye and maintaining eye contact, we say that we are open and eager to get to know them.
11. Turn meeting new people into a game.
Invent a little game when the goal is to get to know as many people as possible. If you convince yourself it’s only a game, and you are earning points for every conversation you strike - it might be less intimidating and scary to approach new people and initiate conversations.
12. Read and learn from the masters.
Read books such as "How to win friends and influence people" by Dale Carnegie. It is such a classic book on improving conversation style that regardless of its age it remains valid, useful and motivating.
13. Make your goodbye count.
Make a good last impression by smiling and saying something friendly. According to the primacy-recency effect, people mostly remember things we say the first and the last. So if your conversation starter was not strong enough, make sure to say goodbye confidently and positively.
14. Practice regularly.
If you are working - attend meetings, networking sessions, etc. If you are a stay at home mom use baby/toddler groups or any other social occasions to try and get to know as many new people as you can. Go and introduce yourself. You will see how much easier it gets with practice.
It's important to make sure we're talking to each other in a way that heals not in a way that wounds. - Barack Obama
Let's recap what to do to overcome discomfort
Remember that the person on the other end might be equally uncomfortable. Think about putting him at ease instead of what to say next.
Listen carefully and attentively. Do not practice your reply while another person is talking. By engaging in active listening, you will show that you are a worthy company as you remain present at all times.
Smile and make eye contact as much as possible. Even if conversation is happening online. People like to know that we are 100% with them. It helps to build trust and rapport.
Be yourself. That is the most crucial piece of advice I received from my mentor many years ago. You do not know what the other person might find important, endearing or charming. Your blushing face might turn out to be your best asset that will help you to win friends.
Be yourself. The world worships the original. - Ingrid Bergman.
Don't give up if you say something wrong or if you stammer. We all are humans. We all make mistakes - even the person on the other side - he or she has also been in your shoes. Everyone knows how nerve-wracking talking to new people could be. Just apologise and continue. As the saying goes, 'to err is human...'
And one bonus tip
Wear your favourite slippers. If the conversation is online you can wear something fun or comfy underneath your formal clothes. Or wear your lucky charm if you don't want anyone to see it. And if meeting in person and sleepers are and-go, imagine being in your most comfy outfit. It works like a dream!
Starting new conversations is not easy. Showing our best qualities, showing how great we are in five minutes, is difficult for almost everyone. Just accept it. Be yourself and do your very best.
Shyness and uneasiness from talking to new people disappear with practice. Try to enjoy the process of acquiring new skills. Imagine, one day you will be so good at it that you might think of the past self - shy and nervous - with a smile and a sense of nostalgia.
What tips do use when meeting someone for the first time?