One out of every ten Americans has a fear of talking to strangers. When you enter a room full of new faces, to start these conversations seems like an impossible task. You wait and wait and hope to God someone else says hello first, but the apprehensive silence persists. Then nobody talks to anybody.
This unwillingness to communicate will result in missed opportunities to meet new friends and make valuable connections. Your initial timidity takes time and practice to overcome. However, the more often you throw yourself into the sea, the less likely the waves are to bother you.
Below are four major roadblocks that stand in your way of starting conversations. The solutions to these problems will equip you with the motivation to stop falling asleep behind the conversational wheel.
The Fear of Rejection
They won’t say hello back to me. They won’t be interested in me. I will make a fool of myself.
This is the number one reason people don’t start conversations. However, practice will make this fear fade away. The more you often you start conversations, the better you will become at it. So, be the first to introduce yourself or say hello. When you take an active instead of a passive role, your skills will develop and there will be less of a chance for rejection. Also understand the gains vs. losses. For example, what’s so bad about a rejection from someone you don’t even know? On the other hand, a new contact awaits your introduction!
Nothing Good to Say
I can’t think of anything good to say. I never break the ice. Opening lines are difficult to put into action.
Be certain to ask open ended questions with such words as ‘How is…?’ ‘Why are…?’ and ‘What was…?’ These questions elicit elaboration, explanation and show the other person you have taken an interest in them. Also give a compliment about something you’ve noticed followed by a related inquiry. Not only does this appeal to someone’s personal interests, but it flatters them and satisfies the number one human desire to feel appreciated. Finally, offer an interesting piece of knowledge or trivia. Facts like these are more engaging than the weather and will lead your conversation to new and exciting directions.
Uncertainty of Involvement
All of these people are strangers. I came into the conversation too late. I’m not sure how to get involved with the discussion.
Be an active listener. Make eye contact with the speaker. And, keep your ears open for iceberg statements. These are pieces of free information where ninety percent is under the surface ready to be talked about. For example, listen for an implied statement about someone’s family or a key phrase such as ‘independent contractor.’ Be sure to smile, nod and respond with follow up inquiries. This allows you to become included as a part of the conversation.
Perception of Conversational Value
Small talk is a waste of my time. There’s no reason to interact to these people. I won’t gain anything if I say hello to the woman next to me.
Yes you will! You will gain something if you talk to the woman next to you. People start conversations for five reasons: to help, to learn, to relate, to influence and to play. Think of the potential value! And you never know whom you will meet. ‘Fear not to entertain strangers for in so doing some will entertain angels unaware.’ Remember, some people enter into your lives and change it forever. But, until you own the attitude that every conversation will affect your life, whatever gain is accrued when you engage in social interaction will continue to be outweighed by your fear.
Ultimately, initiating the conversation is half the battle. It’s the most difficult part of interpersonal communication, and therefore an important skill to master. Overcoming your initial fear of rejection will come as you start more conversations, more often. When you use open ended questions which appeal to the needs and interests of others, the probability of rejection will significantly reduce. And, when you become a more active listener with the attitude that conversations do have value, you no longer have to worry about falling asleep behind the conversational wheel.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
When was the last time you didn’t feel comfortable starting a conversation?