Things You Should Know

  • Start up a conversation with a new person by chatting about something you have in common.
  • Offer a simple greeting or question to start a conversation rather than saying something clever.
  • Ask open-ended questions that require the other person to give a detailed answer.
  • Practice positive body language when you speak to others, like smiling, making eye contact, and nodding at the right time.

Starting a Conversation

  1. Talk to a new person. Sometimes the hardest part of talking to people is figuring out how to start the conversation. This can be particularly intimidating when you want to talk to someone that you have not previously met. To strike up a conversation with a new person, try to find some common ground.[1]
    • For example, if you are waiting in line at your neighborhood coffee shop, you could say to the person in front of you, “What’s good here? I’ve never tried any of their specialty drinks.”
    • You can also comment on the situation. Try saying, “Isn’t it nice out today?”. If the person responds in a favorable tone, you can follow up with some more specific comments.
    • Another conversation starter is making a comment about the person you want to talk to. You could say, “I really love that bag you’re carrying.”
  2. Choose the right person to approach. Look for someone who is not otherwise occupied and has a friendly expression. For example, if you are standing in line and someone makes eye contact with you, offer a smile and an opening question. Avoid trying to start a conversation with someone who is speaking to someone else or who is actively engaged in a task.[2]
    • At a party, a good place to start a conversation is near the food table or bar. These things provide natural conversation starters, such as “Have you tried the spinach dip?” or “Can you show me how to use this wine opener?”
    • If you are having trouble mingling at a party, head towards the kitchen. This is often a gathering space, and you can join in the crowd by helping to mix drinks or set out snacks.
    • The same rules apply when deciding when to approach a co-worker. Wait until they are not obviously engaged with someone else. Lunch is an ideal time to start a conversation.
  3. Approach someone you know. Maybe you want to talk to someone you’ve met, but you don’t know how to break the ice. One effective approach is to ask that person something about themselves. Questions are a great way to get the conversational ball rolling.

    • If you want to chat to a colleague in the cafeteria, questions are a good way to start. Try saying, “How was your weekend? Did you take advantage of the great weather?”
    • Maybe you’d like to get to know your new next door neighbor. When you see her grabbing her mail, say, “How are you adjusting to your new neighborhood? Let me know if I can recommend a good pizza place.”
  4. Keep it simple. You don’t have to have a great opening line in order to start talking to someone. You can start by saying something as basic as “Hi” or “How are you?”. The other person will often take it from there and keep the conversation going.

    • You can make a simple statement about yourself. After a challenging spinning class, say to the person next to you, “Wow, I’m going to be sore later.”
    • By keeping things simple, you are starting the conversation, but allowing the other person to help you get things started. It also takes some of the pressure off of you to find something clever to say.
  5. Avoid over-sharing. When you are trying to start a conversation, it is important that you do not make the other person feel awkward. Many people have a tendency to babble or chat nervously when making small talk. This can lead to a common social problem known as over-sharing.
    • Unless you are talking privately to someone you know well, it’s best to avoid sharing sensitive information about yourself. For example, don’t try to start a conversation by telling a casual acquaintance the results of your most recent checkup at your gynecologists office.
    • People often feel uncomfortable when you share personal information. The cashier at the grocery store likely does not want to hear that your teenage daughter is not performing well at school. When you are starting a conversation, stay away from potentially sensitive subjects.
    • Don’t monologue at people—good conversations are dialogues with questions and anecdotes.
  6. Know when not to talk. Sometimes silence can feel awkward. Your natural inclination might be to fill that silence with chit chat. However, there are times that it is best to stay silent.

    • If you are bored on an airplane, you might want to entertain yourself by talking to your seatmate. But if she is giving you certain social cues, find another way to amuse yourself.
    • If someone is avoiding making eye contact, that is a sign she doesn’t feel like talking. Someone who is reading or listening to headphones is probably also content to remain silent.