How to Talk to Strangers

Party People Communication Talking Happiness Concept


When Everyone Is a Stranger

The job offer that came from way across the country was just too good to resist. Now you’re moving to another state, under different circumstances, with the challenging prospect of making new friends. New friends! Yikes! You don’t know a soul where you’re going, and it’s been a while since you’ve had to build a network of friends from scratch. Sure, you’ll still have your supportive buddies only a Skype away, but there’s something to be said for face-to-face friendships too.

From Online to Outside

Today, there are more ways of discovering soulmates than ever before. Find a group of people who share your interests, and you’re almost certain to find some new friends among them. You don’t even have to venture outside to check out local possibilities. For starters, take a look at Meetup’s website, where you’ll see an array of nearby groups, arranged by topic. If anything stands out, you can arrange to meet with the group in person. You can do the same thing on Facebook; just pop your new town into the search engine to see what comes up. The great thing about scouting out groups on the internet is that you have the chance to get a pretty good idea of what they’re all about before you actually show up for a meeting.

Anything that gets you interacting with other folks with similar interests on a regular basis is likely to promote friendships, for the simple reason that regular contact makes it a lot easier to get comfortable with other folks than sporadic encounters. If you can’t find a Meetup group to match your needs, try starting one yourself!

If you’re passionate about a cause, why not volunteer some time to it? The local animal shelter, eldercare center, museum, church—and more—offer great possibilities for sharing your expertise with a worthy cause. Try looking at the VolunteerMatch website, which claims to be “the largest network in the nonprofit world, with the most volunteers, nonprofits and opportunities.” VolunteerMatch’s website is structured similarly to Meetup’s. Enter your location to see available opportunities.

Get Schooled

Take a class. Many colleges offer a choice of courses from their curriculum to the larger community at reduced rates. Oftentimes, museums, galleries, art stores and libraries have specialized workshops. Or, join a book club, amateur sports team, an exercise class or perhaps a yoga class. You can also learn a lot by attending art openings, lectures, readings, music recitals—where you can mingle and mix it up with fellow connoisseurs.

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Get outside and take a walk. Get to know your neighbors. Do you share interests with them? You won’t know unless you open up a conversation. Start with a friendly wave or greeting to see if anything builds from there. Remark on something external to you both, even something as mundane as the weather (but try to make it interesting—you can even rehearse your opening comment ahead of time). Ask for directions (after all, you’re new in town!) or recommendations for shopping, restaurants, farmers’ markets, and so on.

Don’t come on too personal too soon. Wait until a friendly rapport is established before launching into any personal revelations. Never take for granted someone’s political affiliation or religious belief. Not everyone thinks like you do! Save the Big Questions for later on in your relationship.

How the Wallflower Blossoms

If you’re shy, especially when you’re surrounded by strangers, you’re not alone. Half the people in the United States say they’re shy to some degree, according to Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at Stanford University who has researched the subject. If you find yourself at a party where you don’t know anyone, pick out someone who looks as uncomfortable as you feel and talk to them. Chances are they’ll be relieved and happy just to have someone to chat with. Again, pick something external (the decorations, the food, the music) to get the ball rolling. Do you want to get to know another shy person better? Use your own best judgment, but sometimes it helps to ‘fess up about your own shyness. Once your “secret” is out in the open and the ice is broken, conversation should come more easily. Expose yourself a bit by sharing small confidences, but don’t tell them your life story. Let conversations (like friendships) just flow naturally.

And by the way, the self-consciousness that most shy people suffer from is fed by the fear that everyone is watching you and taking notes, all the time waiting for you to fall flat on your face. But it’s not all about you. People are not, in fact, hanging on your every word in the hope that you’ll make a fool of yourself. Welcome to the human race.

Even if your overtures don’t work, if your desire for friendship is not reciprocated, do not beat yourself up. It’s not your fault and again, it’s not about you. It’s just that sometimes things don’t work out the way you hoped they would. There are so many more potential friends out there! Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again.

Always remember that in order to make a friend, you have to act like a friend, and you’ll make all the friends you ever will need.