One of the most enjoyable things about traveling is the wonderful people you meet. Whether it’s across a continent or at a new coffee shop down the street, chatting with new people can be very rewarding. Starting conversations is hard, and continuing them is even harder. But fear not, because having great conversations with strangers is easy, and they can lead to some great new friendships.
Here are five tips for having great conversations:
Timing Is Everything
When starting a conversation, take into account the setting. If the area is busy and loud, you might not be able to keep your full attention on your conversation partner. Choose a person who looks happy, and make sure they aren’t busy. A conversation with a new person could be a wonderful and fascinating experience, but if the other person is in the middle of something, they can’t give you their full attention. Conversation with a new person is a great way to spice up a boring wait or a long bus ride, but can be awkward and annoying if it happens in the middle of a guided tour. If the setting is good, then it’s time for the next step.
Lead With An Observation
When starting a dialogue with someone new, it can be tempting to open with an introduction. This is a simple way to start a conversation, but it leads to a screeching halt after both parties say their names. Avoid the awkwardness by starting with an observation instead. For example, point out the great shirt they’re wearing or make a joke about the warmer weather. This is a great way to engage people in conversations other than the typical introduction. An observation can lead into a deeper conversation, and gives your conversation partner a chance to add on. When you compliment their coat, they can tell you where they purchased it, and before you know it you’re both talking about your favorite store. Then you can move on to introductions when it feels more natural and you’ve built a rapport already.
The Magic of FORD
So, you’ve started chatting with someone, led with an observation, and now you’re stuck. You’ve talked about the weather, introduced yourself, and the conversation has stalled. Welcome to the magic of “FORD.” FORD is a handy acronym that’s a great way to remember some great conversation topics. It stands for Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams. These are all great topics to converse about when talking to someone new. Their answers may open the door to other topics, allowing you to learn more about them. Until you know the person better, FORD is a great place to start, and an easy way to identify common ground when chatting with someone new. When the conversation hits a lull, ask a FORD question. The answer is a great way to steer the conversation to something more personal, thus giving you a stronger connection.
Fight Awkward Silences
Everything seems to be going great in your conversation, and then suddenly it happens: the dreaded awkward silence. It may have been something you said, or a joke that fell flat, or nothing at all, but now the silence is in the air, and the conversation is dying fast. When confronted with an awkward silence, don’t let it hang. Use this time to change the subject. Ask a follow up question to something that was discussed earlier, or use another observation. Awkward silence can be a great way to incorporate a new topic to a conversation. Chances are, your conversation partner will be relieved to end the silence, and happy to chat about anything else.
It’s great to hear about the surface details of a person’s life, but the most interesting conversations I’ve had are when the conversation moves on a deeper level. This is a hard thing to do when you’ve just met someone, but a simple tactic is to ask them a “why” question. If they say they are a retired teacher, ask them why they decided to go into teaching. Their answer will be much more telling and interesting then if you asked them what grade they taught. “Why” questions are a great way to glimpse a person’s psyche and really helps understand them on a deeper level, and opens the door for much more in-depth conversations than simply talking about the weather. “Why” are great follow-ups when learning about someone’s hobby, home or occupation.
So there you have it! These are five ways to have great conversations with strangers. Hopefully you’ll use some of these on your next bus trip and meet a new friend! Your next great conversation is just a person away. On your next Starr vacation, take advantage of the wealth of new people around you, and get to know them a little. Your new best friend might be on this very trip!
What are your tips for carrying on a conversation?