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Three Tricks for Starting a Conversation With a Stranger

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Updated July 07, 2012

Starting a conversation is as easy for some people as eating and breathing. However, if you suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD), a room full of strangers can be as intimidating as moving to a foreign country. If the stranger that you are looking to start a conversation with is an authority figure, this just adds to your anxiety.

Here are three helpful tips when trying to start a conversation:

Comment on something personal.

Often the person you are trying to start a conversation with will have some item of jewelry, an unusual shirt or maybe even a tattoo; something distinctive that tells a story about the person. Items like this give you a starting point for conversation.

Say something like: "Wow, that is a beautiful pendant, what kind of stone is that?" or "Nice shirt, so you're a Grateful Dead fan?" or even, "Is that a tattoo of Yoda on your shoulder?" Avoid anything too intimate as a starting point or you're likely to offend the other person.

After you receive a response the key is to have something else to say that will give you a common platform on which to build a conversation and a relationship. Before you start, you will want to think of a follow-up story. This is the key to building a conversation.

Follow up with something somewhat personal that relates to the other person and that tells them something interesting about you: "The only place I've ever seen anything like that pendant was once at a bazaar in India." Or "My father was a real Dead Head; he took me to see them when I was a kid." Or "I love tattoos, I've been thinking of getting one but I'm not sure what to get? How did you decide on Yoda?"

All of these statements help connect you to the person and keep the conversation moving.

Try the old standby, "Haven't I seen you somewhere before?"

Given the right circumstances this conversation starter can work. If you say to someone, "You seem really familiar, do I know you from somewhere?", it makes it very easy to gather and give a lot of information and start a conversation.

"What high school did you attend?" "I was in the marching band, did you play an instrument?" "Where do you work?" "I've been to that Starbucks." As you go through the details of the other person's life story, you should feel free to go off on tangents. Remember, you don't really want to find out if you've met before; you want to get to know each other.

Make a funny comment.

One of the best ways to start a conversation is to make a funny comment about your surroundings. "Hey, doesn't our instructor look like Harry Potter?" or, "Is it just me, or is the guy in the front row asleep?" The goal is not to be mean-spirited or judgmental so be sure to keep your comments light-hearted.

Try to invite the other person in on the joke. "Where do you think he keeps his magic wand, in his briefcase?" or "Do you think he's going to sleep through the whole class?" Know that this method of starting a conversation can be risky. Humor is difficult with an audience whom you don't know well. However, if you find someone that shares your sense of humor, chances are that it will be the start of a great friendship.

Remember that any of these tricks is likely to fail some of the time. If you don't get a positive response from somebody, there are always other people that you can approach. If you are persistent you will find that over time it will get easier to speak with strangers. As you become more confident and at ease you won't need to rely on tricks to start conversations.

If you have severe social anxiety, you will also need to receive proper treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or medication. Without effective treatment, tricks such as these conversation starters or other social skill strategies aren't likely to be effective.

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