TalkingIt’s a modern phenomenon that many of us will now find it easier to talk to strangers online than in person. Often through social media we will have built up a network of ‘friends’, some perhaps we know on a personal level and many others at a distance or we have never met, but often we will share our most intimate thoughts and details of our daily lives with them.

But whilst all of this activity has been going on, have we forgotten how to forge new relationships in the real world…

Essentially the question is – can you talk to a stranger?

You may be thinking to yourself at my age I’ve got enough friends, but you never know when the situation may arise that you need to befriend someone – if you move job, or move house, are settling your children into a new school, are attending a wedding or other event or you simply want to broaden your horizons with a new hobby that may involve meeting and needing to communicate with new people.

Most people fall broadly in to two camps, those that can talk to anyone in any situation and those that are ‘wall flowers’ and find ‘small talk’ and social engagement very difficult. Generally speaking those that appear to socialise well, have a lot less anxiety about being judged – they are not worried about saying the funniest thing – they just chit chat naturally. But these folks secret weapon isn’t in fact talking, it is listening, they are able to put others at their ease quickly, and they act interested and they are inclusive, drawing others into a conversation.

So, if it’s been a while and you find yourself in the situation of having to talk to someone you do not know; then follow these tips to a smooth conversation:

Think about how you look to the outside world, do you look friendly and approachable, or are your arms crossed over your body in a protective way. As humans we take a lot of cues from body language before we ever get to words

Start early – the longer awkward silences go on, the worse things get. So be brave and jump in – you don’t need to start with anything more difficult than ‘hello’.

Understand the difference between open and closed questions. Open questions will invite the other person to give an expansive answer, rather than just a yes or no answer. This keeps a conversation flowing much more naturally. But do make sure you pay attention to what is being said, don’t ask a question and then switch off – trying to think of what you might ask next…

It is easier than you think to find a common ground, for example if you were at a wedding – you might talk about how you each know the bride or groom. If you were at the school gates, you might talk about how many children you have of what ages and so on.

Try practicing when the stakes are not so high, passing the time of day with a neighbour you’ve not spoken to, or the postman delivering your mail.

Lastly, it may be worth going back to social media to see what online connections you can turn into real life connections. If you have connected online with a love of films or music, or have the same past time – then that is as good a place as any to start.