Almost all friendships start with awkward pauses and getting-to-know you periods. It is when the ice breaks and the real conversation starts that you know a friendship may be blooming. Even brief conversations with complete strangers involve breaking the ice -- whether you are on an elevator or an airplane. While it may be tempting to wait for the other person to make the first move -- particularly if you are anxious or fear rejection -- breaking the ice is something that anyone can do to get the conversation rolling. It just takes a bit of practice.
Breaking the ice with someone new is often as simple as being approachable and friendly. A welcoming smile, good eye contact and easy laughter will quickly endear you to your new acquaintance. If you feel apprehensive about meeting someone new, and this anxiety translates into stiff and standoffish body language, take heart. Everyone gets a little nervous. Try to relax by thinking of this new person as a friend you just haven't met yet.
Talking to someone new can be hard because of the fear of rejection. If you put yourself out there and the coffee barista ignores your attempt at conversation, you might leave feeling worse than if you had never tried. Dating and relationship consultant Jeremy Nicholson suggests using an indirect approach to overcome your anxiety in the "Psychology Today" article "Break the Ice -- How to Talk to Girls and Guys." For example, Nicholson suggests asking about a book someone is reading or commenting on the weather. If the other person doesn't respond to your attempt to break the ice, no big deal -- you haven't put too much of yourself out there. It can also be helpful to remember that the other person may be as nervous as you are.
Ask a Favor
Nicholson also explains that we like people more when we do favors for them -- a phenomenon known as the "Ben Franklin Effect." So the next time you are at a party and don't know what to say to the guest next to you at the refreshment table, ask if he can hand you a cup. Even the smallest favor can have the effect of making you more likeable to your new acquaintance, and it is an easy way to break the ice.
Asking a favor can get your foot in the door, but if you don't have any follow-up conversation planned, you might as well park your new friendship at the starting gate. Now is the time to bring out your arsenal of small talk topics to get the ball rolling. Although anything is fair game, discussions about your surroundings are often a good way to start. You might comment on the impending storm clouds or the mystery meat at the buffet. If you're at a wedding, you could discuss your respective connections to the bride and groom. Offering a variety of topics for small talk helps to further break the ice with someone new as you search for common connections with each other.
Once you've gotten the conversation started, go beyond small talk to show an interest in the other person. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, suggests reflecting back what the other person says to show that you are listening and to ensure comprehension, in the "Psychology Today" article "10 Tips to Talk About Anything with Anyone." Ask about personal interests such as pets, hobbies and favorite music and follow up with genuine queries to learn more about what makes the other person tick. Sometimes the goal of breaking the ice is to see if you have enough common interests to form a friendship. If this is the case, let this goal guide your questions, and you will either watch the ice melt or decide to move on.