It can be an awkward moment, especially if you know who the other person is but have never been introduced. Maybe it’s someone you would really like to talk to, but you feel tongue-tied.
If you haven’t a clue about how to start the conversation, these simple tips will help you out.
Check to see whether the other person looks interested in interacting
How is the other person standing? Move so that she is either facing you or angled toward you. Someone who turns away or has her back to you probably won’t welcome an overture.
A person who looks at you and then glances away may be inviting you to speak, especially if she makes eye contact repeatedly.
Start with something that both of you can see and hear
If the other person appears receptive, try making a remark about something that is in plain sight. It can be the weather, a nearby building or tree, the hors d’oeuvres, the comment the speaker just made, or anything else that you both can see and hear.
Keep the tone neutral until you learn more about the other person. Negative remarks—for example, critical statements or controversial political views—may be a turnoff and should be avoided unless you have clear evidence that the other person will welcome them.
Build on what the other person says
The other person, acknowledging your first words, will probably add some information or an opinion. For example, if you commented that the hostess’s red dress is stunning, the other person might say, “She always goes in for bright colors.” You can then ask, “Have you known her a long time?” Or perhaps “Do you come to a lot of these get-togethers?”
If you choose not to build on the other person’s reply—for instance, by saying, “Well, bright colors certainly look good on her”—you are not providing any opening for a rejoinder and are therefore making further conversation between the two of you more difficult.
Don’t be afraid to listen
If you ask a question that the other person likes, you may get a lengthy answer. In this situation you can listen without speaking except for a brief question or two. (Examples would be “Really?” or “Did he say why?”)
Many people feel that they are expected to speak up. In reality most of us are mainly interested in being heard, and so attentive silence is seldom a bad idea. You can’t go wrong if you listen closely, ask for clarification as necessary, and show that you are thinking about what was just said.
Don’t feel you have to fill silences
If there is a pause in the conversation, even a lengthy one, you don’t need to cut it short. Sometimes silence sends the message that you are thinking about what was said or are deciding what to say or do next. Your silence can make you seem thoughtful and poised.
Generally speaking, quiet can be relaxing, soothing. If you rush to fill every void with words, on the other hand, you may seem anxious and tense.
Don’t worry about being judged
Sometimes people infer from another person’s silence that the other person is judging them harshly. They think, “He thinks what I just said is really dumb.” Studies have shown, however, that people are generally thinking not about others but about themselves.
Most of us are so preoccupied with our own problems and interests that we are relatively oblivious to those of other people most of the time. You can safely start from the assumption that the other person is not thinking about you.
Use the magic word
All of us like to hear our own name more than any other word. If you want to please other people, use their names from time to time when you are talking with them.
Make eye contact
When you make eye contact with someone else, you show that you are willing to engage with that person. You are open to dialogue. You are listening.
Avoiding eye contact, on the other hand, sends the message that you do not welcome interaction and, sometimes, that you would rather avoid conversation altogether.
Someone whose body language and eyes seem not to acknowledge your presence at all is trying to ignore you. Sometimes people who do this are actually feeling hostile.
Your posture says a lot about your attitude toward yourself and your state of mind generally. You want to stand up straight, shoulders relaxed and down, head up.
To learn good posture, stand in a doorway and press your spine into the frame. The back of your head should just touch the wood. Then step away from the frame while remaining erect.
This position may feel awkward initially, but it communicates calm strength and, because it holds your vital organs in the proper alignment, good health.
The magic of touch
Touch is a loaded issue in our litigious society. People who have been attacked or beaten or otherwise traumatized may not welcome unexpected physical contact. For most of us, however, a handshake, a gentle touch on the shoulder or arm, or open arms inviting a casual embrace are welcome opportunities for connection.
We humans crave physical contact most of the time. In fact, we need it to remain emotionally and physically healthy, but getting it can be problematic.
If you are naturally demonstrative—comfortable and unselfconscious reaching out to others in this way—you will find it easy to connect with most people, and they will immediately gravitate toward you.