We all feel uncomfortable around strangers. And why wouldn’t we be? They’re people we’ve never met, never talked to, and know nothing about. All our lives, we’ve been told to stay away from strangers. And now, we need to get along with them to make new friends, connections, and advance our careers?
Yes, being able to communicate well with others is an essential skill to have. Humans are social creatures. We desire attention and affection, and in return, we offer those things back. In other words, our ability to communicate is innate. So why is it so difficult and why does it feel so awkward to talk to someone new?
Learning how to be comfortable communicating and how to start a conversation to get the ball rolling are two of the biggest hurdles to overcome when talking to someone new. Once the first is overcome, even a fumble in conversation isn’t a big deal. Confidence is key.
Now, I’m not saying you should be narcissistic, overly proud, or boast excessively, but a little confidence goes a long way. Confidence is reassuring and presents you in a positive, unique, enthusiastic, strong light. No one feels confident all the time and sometimes it’s hard to muster it up, especially at special events or around certain people. Here are a few ideas to help your confidence shine through so you can take on the world:
- Dress Your Best – Dressing nicely can be a huge confidence boost. The old saying, “If you look good, you feel good,” caught on for a reason.
- Remember At The End Of The Day, People are Just People – No matter how intimidating someone may seem or how unrelatable they may appear, people are just people. We all wake up, we all eat food, and we all go about our daily lives fairly similarly. Remember this to ease some of the nerves away.
- Fake It ‘Til You Make It – If you feel you can’t get comfortable with the more gentle approaches to being confident, there is no shame in pretending until you can. Some find it hard to be confident around strangers and doing their best to act confident even though they are not is a step in the right direction that often eases the person into being comfortable with being confident.
- Make a List – If you feel like you don’t have a reason to stand out or feel confident, sit down for a few minutes and brainstorm a few things about yourself. Think about what you’re proud of, your goals, what you’re doing to work towards those goals. Other things to consider are your character: how do you act towards others or in tricky situations for example. Find other aspects of yourself you treasure and make a list. Use this to remind yourself why you deserve to be confident.
You’re walking down the street, dressed all snazzy, confident, when suddenly you run into Mr.Opportunity McThisIsYourChance. You’re ready to talk to him, but about what? It’s hard to talk to someone for the first time. Search for topics you have in common. Do you both work, perhaps in similar fields? It’s not a bad idea to bring up the news or popular culture either (as long as you’re not giving away a spoiler).
Anything relatable can also be a good topic. You can bring up a short anecdote of yours. Anecdotes are fantastic for relationship building because they share a bit about yourself in a memorable way. You’re no longer “Jim that you talked to that one time” but instead “Jim who learned how to recite the first paragraph of the constitution backward on a dare from his cousin”.
Finally, make sure to shift the focus of the conversation toward the other person often. People like being listened to more than they like listening. Make sure the other person is heard and ensure you are actively listening. This is another great way to build the bond between you two, make you more comfortable with each other, increase your value in their eyes, and help both learn about each other.
An opportunity to network can arise anywhere at any time. Seek out peers and mentors to network with at events, conferences, and other meetups, but keep in mind you never know who you may meet at the grocery store and what they could do for you. It’s a good idea to always keep a business card on you and before parting ways make sure to exchange contact information. It may feel awkward to end on this note at first, but that will pass once the interaction is over. Don’t forget to follow up afterward to thank them for a pleasant interaction.
Networking and communication are difficult skills to master but each interaction with others brings you one step closer. More times than not, you have very little to lose and a lot to gain by reaching out to someone. You never know, your next silent ride in an elevator may turn into a stimulating conversation or an incredible opportunity.