It’s not easy meeting new people, especially if you feel particularly shy. It is much easier to just walk by a person and never make eye contact. This may be OK at the store, but what if you’re at a convention, a trade fair or even a local festival. That person that you just walked past could be a valuable contact. Or they could know someone you want to know. They also could be a jerk. But you’ll never know unless you put yourself out there and find out for sure.
Will some people reject you and not want to talk to you? Yes. But who cares? For every 10 people you talk, one or two of them could become valuable connections — or lifelong friends. What have you got to lose?
Here are a few ways you can overcome your fear and turn strangers into new connections:
1. Say “Hi.”
Just say “Hi,” to someone. You’d be amazed at how quickly you get a friendly response. When I worked in restaurants, we often had rules like, “say hello within a minute of someone walking in” or “answer the phone within three rings.”
Practice with people wherever you are – the grocery store, the bank, the farmers’ market. Just say “hello” and smile. You’ll be amazed by how many people respond.
2. Look Approachable
How you look and act says a lot about how people react to you. No, this doesn’t mean you have to wear a coat and tie. In fact, being in more relaxed clothing might make you seem more approachable. Your body language is key. Are slumped over, looking at the ground? Straighten up! Look ahead and make eye contact with people as you walk by, even if you don’t stop to talk. When someone is near you, make sure you look receptive. Don’t cross your arms over your chest. Instead, put your arms down, or behind your back, making your body look more open. Smile or at least relax your face so you don’t look tense.
3. Assume the other person is shy
So if you’re shy and they’re shy, how are you going to meet? Well, since you’re the one reading this article, you have the advantage and can assume the other person is too shy to say anything. So, overcome your fear and walk over to them. Talk about the weather or baseball or if they’re holding a book or magazine, ask what they’re reading. You’d be amazed at how many connections are made by simply saying, “some weather we’re having, huh?”
Just like anything else, you can’t get good at something until you practice it. Take the opportunity, wherever you are, to talk to strangers (yes, I know what your mother said. I say the same thing to my kids). You will probably feel awkward at first. Perhaps even a little bit silly. But you will find that after a while, it becomes almost second nature to talk with people at the store or the park.
5. Find common ground
While you’re chatting with someone, pay attention to the things they seem to like — or notice where you are. If you’re at the car parts store, ask about their car interests. If you’re at the farmers’ market, ask if they have a garden. Find out if they have kids, go fishing, whatever. Most likely, you will have something to talk with this new person about.
6. Decide if you’re interested in pursuing
At the end of a conversation, you have to decide whether or not you want to pursue this relationship. If you do, present the person with your card or ask for theirs. Alternatively, ask for an email address or Facebook connection. Say something cheery like, “we should meet up sometime and talk more.” If you don’t want to pursue this connection, just be gracious, say “good talking to you.” And chalk up the conversation up to experience.