You are at the bookstore, and you suddenly glimpse an attractive person near you in the same aisle. You would love to initiate conversation but you don’t want to come off as cheesy, pushy, or desperate. You are not alone. Luckily, there are three very natural tactics to break the ice without sounding cheesy, pushy, or desperate.
Try playing dumb. For example, next time you’re at a coffee shop with your laptop, you can ask anyone near you the innocent question, “Is your internet working? Mine seems really slow…” You may have the fastest internet connection in the world, but that doesn’t matter. Your sole mission is to start the conversation. If you successfully ignite a conversation, in the end, no one will care or remember how it started.
These help questions work well because they are safe and give you permission to pop the bubble that exists between strangers. The other person won’t feel awkward responding to something so innocent (and you won’t feel awkward asking!). Additionally, these questions are easy to answer. The last thing you want to do is force the other person to answer a challenging question.
If they are interested in talking with you, you’ll know. If they respond with a terse, “Mine is fine” and look back down at their laptop, then you can take that as a closed door to conversation. If you receive a warm reception – even if they cannot help you – you have officially popped the bubble and are free to ask follow up questions. You could then follow up with, “Yours is? You’re lucky…maybe it’s just my computer… I really need to buy a new one…do you like your Toshiba?”
Let’s look at a few more examples. Remember, you may know the answer, but that’s not the point!
At a convention or event: “This food looks good…do you think we can start eating yet?”
Near a festival: “I wonder what’s going on down there?”
Concert or convention: “Do you know when ____ is supposed to start?”
In the city: “Do you know where I can find a Verizon store around here? Mine is giving me issues…”
If you prefer the more subtle route, you can try simple spoken out-loud comments. Next time you sit down in a public environment, trying saying something like, “Wow it’s cold in here…” or “I’m so glad this place has outlets…” Like the help question, these comments will never be remembered; they simply let others know that you are open to conversation. If someone else feels like talking as well, they will respond to your comment with their own comment (e.g. “Yeah, I was thinking that too.” or “Yeah I wonder if they are going to turn up the a/c anytime soon.”).
What if you are not ready to fly solo? Sometimes it helps to find an accomplice for your ice breaking mission.
Go out with your friend, and start an interesting conversation near the stranger. Maybe you’re shopping for a shirt at your favorite retail outlet, and an attractive stranger is nearby. If you have an accomplice with you, then it’s natural to start a conversation about the shirt; talk about how you feel about it, how it looks, how much it costs, etc. It’s far easier to invite someone to join an existing conversation than to start from scratch. If you and your friend are debating whether to buy the tight red shirt versus the tight blue shirt, it’s a fairly easy segue to asking the stranger for their opinion.
Talking to strangers doesn’t have to cause a panic attack if you keep the approach low-key and low risk.
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