Follow these practical tips to strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere—without feeling awkward or intrusive.
Strangers are simply friends you haven’t met yet.
But how exactly do you make that initial conversation happen? It’s a very valid question, says Erin Parisi, L.M.H.C., a mental health counselor in Orlando, Florida.
“Technology, social media, and online dating have all impacted the way we interact with other people,” she explains. “While there are many benefits, there seem to be a lot more barriers to connecting with others in the here and now.”
You may feel awkward, shy, or intrusive when introducing yourself. Or you may wonder if striking up a conversation is even considered socially acceptable these days. Rest assured, it is. And people will probably appreciate it more than you know. But first, you have to surround yourself with these soon-to-be friends.
The best places to do that? Where people are doing something you already enjoy.
“Whether it’s a church group, dance lesson, exercise class, sporting event, or whatever it is that floats your boat, find a group doing something that interests you,” says Tina Tessina, Ph.D., a therapist and author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today.
The internet, especially Facebook or Meetup.com, is great for discovering these groups that hold in-person events, she says. But you can also take advantage of the places you already go every week to connect with new people, including the grocery store or the gym. You just need to know a few friendly conversation starters to break the ice.
Here are five to keep in mind—all far better than talking about the weather.
Icebreaker #1: “I Like Your Bracelet. Does It Have a Special Meaning for You?”
Use it: When you have time for a longer conversation
Whether you comment on a bracelet, watch, or any other standout accessory, this question serves two purposes. First, it’s a compliment, which everyone appreciates. And second, from the person’s response, you’ll find out if they’re open to conversation as well as some personal details, Tessina explains.
For example, if the bracelet is from her trip to Guatemala, or the watch was given to him by a friend, or the hair ornament is something she got at a craft fair, that’s information that tells you something about the person. Then, you can follow up with more questions about travel, friendships, or craft fairs.
“People respond well when you show interest in them,” Tessina says. “Hopefully, they’ll follow up with questions about you.”
Icebreaker #2: “I Love the Color of Your Shirt”
Use it: At a coffee shop, exercise class, or other busy spot
If you’re in a situation where you aren’t sure a full-fledged conversation is appropriate, compliment something you admire about their appearance.
A word of advice: Avoid comments that veer too personal, and don’t say something like, “You’ve got a great figure,” Tessina says. By complimenting something like the color of clothing, you’re flattering the person without putting them off.
If they respond warmly, you can follow up by asking them about it, as in the example above.
Icebreaker #3: “That Was an Interesting Point the Speaker Made. What Did You Think?”
Use it: At a lecture, reading, or other event
Group settings are fertile environments for friendships to bloom. Ask the person next to you what they thought of the talk, or if they found the landscape painting lesson, for example, as difficult as you did.
Bonus points if you’ll be in the same group setting in the future. “That way, if the conversation goes well, you can offer to meet before or after the session for coffee,” Tessina says. “From there, you can begin do more things together, until you’ve established a pattern of friendship.”
Icebreaker #4: “That Looks Tasty—Making Pot Roast Tonight?”
Use it: At the supermarket
This one is ideal for the grocery store checkout line. Most people are on their phones or daydreaming, but you don’t need to be one of them, Parisi says. Without being too nosy, you can ask someone about one of the ingredients in their cart.
Or if you’re often both in line for smoothies at the gym, ask them which one they like best.
Worst case scenario: They rattle off a quick response and go on their way. But who knows? They may be craving a little conversation as well.
Icebreaker #5: “I’ve Always Wanted to Visit Monterey. Let’s Get Coffee—I’d Love to Hear More About It!”
Use it: On Facebook, Instagram, and other social media
While social media can play a role in making us feel isolated or left out—after all, it may sting to see an acquaintance take an incredible trip or go to a concert you’d love to attend—you can also use it to your advantage to create more meaningful connections.
Next time you see a photo that makes you jealous, try reaching out to that person via text, Facebook Messenger, or Instagram Direct Message. Tell them how fun the experience looked, and that you’d love to hear more in person, Parisi suggests.
If they seem open to the idea, set a date! It’s all too easy to say “soon,” which might never happen. Pick a day and time, and see how the friendship grows from there.
Check Your SilverSneakers Eligibility Instantly
SilverSneakers gives you free, unlimited access to more than 15,000 gyms and fitness centers across the nation, plus classes and tools designed to keep older adults strong and independent. Check your eligibility instantly here.