Starting a conversation with a new person altogether doesn’t come easy to a lot of people. I had vocab and pronunciation barriers when I started engaging with locals in the US. I soon learned that most Americans are raised to be vocal and confident and have no qualms walking up to a perfect stranger and starting a conversation. If it were me, I would be rehearsing lines in my head, sweating my palms and over-thinking my pronunciation (#immigrantproblems). So here I am, sharing my tried, tested and proven methods to freely make conversation in any setup with anyone.
Make Eye contact
I’ve seen so many women who shy away from making eye contact even when they are being spoken too. It could be the way you’re brought up and taught not to engage with strangers. But there’s no harm in adapting to the norms and common practices of the place you’re living in right? If you’re unsure of what happens when you make eye contact with people walking past you, let me spill the beans. It doesn’t matter if they recognize you or not, the courteous thing most locals do is – make eye contact and smile or nod. They won’t try to talk to you unless you want to. They won’t stare down at you, they won’t eat you up for sure. So I’d say start by walking your head held up high and walk confidently making eye contact when needed. It’s a norm in most places in USA and it will surely make you familiar with your neighborhood/workplace.
In my early days, I would get suspicious when I noticed unknown people smiling at me. I would legit turn back and see if there’s someone behind me. But that smile was for me! Me??!! I don’t even know that person! What does he want? Has he seen me around? If you relate to this neurotic behavior, let me clear your doubts – No, you are not famous. No, they don’t want anything from you and are probably not going to attack you. It’s a general courtesy to share a friendly smile with no ulterior motive. I know it sounds weird, because where we were raised, smiling at strange men/women only caused suspicion. But, you’re safe here, trust me. A little smile can take you a long way!
‘Hi, I’m Anjali’. ‘Hey, I’m Emily’ In unison – ‘Nice to meet you!’ As simple as that. And always try to shake hands if you’re meeting someone for the first time. They could be neighbors or your spouse’s co-workers, or new people you meet – firm, confident handshake goes a long way and speaks oodles about your confidence and stance. I also make sure to pronounce my name loud and clear. More often than not they’ll ask you to repeat your name because Americans want to pronounce your name right. So, don’t make the mistake of settling for an ill-pronounced name. Feel free to politely correct them and they will thank you for it.
I’ve been to multiple networking events for professionals, small businesses and bloggers. At first, I was this awkward girl in a room full of strangers, struggling to form the right sentences. I would look for one familiar face or another awkward face and start from there. Here’s a list of Ice breaker topics I came to master and now it’s like clockwork for me. The only rule here is to ask open-ended questions and find a link that connects. It could be the same birth month or same college or living in the same neighborhood or being an immigrant. Find that thread of connection and keep building 🙂
Be a good listener
Anytime I talk to a new person, the semi introverted me is mentally getting ready to throw the next sentence. I later realized that, if I paid attention actually listening to them, I wouldn’t have to prepare my part in anticipation. One of the biggest mistakes Desis make during a conversation is not listening. All we care about is stating our point of view as quickly as possible. What i, we let the other person finish what they’re saying, LISTEN and then respond? We’ll be in a better position to reply/answer/continue the conversation effectively.
Do you know how a semi introvert like me gets talking? ‘Hey, cute dress, girl!’ said this random girl at the airport restroom. And my immediate reaction was ‘Aww thank you! I like your jacket’. See – It’s the best conversation starter! We all looouuvvve compliments. And 9 out of 10 times they are genuine compliments. Americans don’t shy from complimenting strangers. So, if you are not used to this, you’re definitely going to make an awkward face and smile. But instead, let’s thank and return the compliment with a smile, can we try that?
But don’t be superficial. You might notice that most Americans are friendly talkers and upbeat about their day. It’s always a bonus to talk to someone who shares that positive energy. It might not come naturally to a lot of Desis, because we don’t easily get excited *ahem ahem* But I would urge you to make an attempt to share friendly banter. I’m naturally a smiley-faced person who laughs loud and gets animated when excited. Showing enthusiasm while conversing radiates positive energy and they’ll want to talk to you again 🙂
Be more human and genuine
Allow your personality to show when your engaging in a fun banter. I know a lot of us tend to have our guards up and hold back thinking you might not be likeable. But I’ve found that being your own real self, helps to build a better connection with like minded/spirited people. Admit if you made a mistake, don’t pretend to be a know-it-all, offer to help, and just be kind. If you had a good chat with this person, offer to exchange numbers and maybe meet up for coffee some time. If you didn’t really connect with this person, say ‘Alright, It was nice talking to you. I’ll see you around’ and politely excuse yourself.
Try and keep these tips in mind the next time you have to start or engage in small talk with a stranger and I’d love to hear how it goes!