How can you have a conversation with someone you don’t know? If you are single, for example, and you see someone that you are interested in, how can you start a conversation with this person? We all know nothing will happen if you are unable to talk to the opposite sex. But talking to a complete stranger can be really hard for some people.
Or perhaps you are new to a church, school, or workplace. How can you start conversations with people you don’t know as a way of starting a friendship? Or perhaps you want to evangelize but you find it frightening to even talk to a stranger let alone share the gospel with him or her. What strategies are there for talking to people you don’t know?
As Christians, we are not required to be conversational experts. To be a good Christian is not the same thing as being an extroverted person who is the life of the party. But if you are unable to speak with people you don’t know, this can make other parts of your life very difficult. Meeting someone to date, making new friends, and building new work relationships, for example, will be impossible if you are frozen in fear at the thought of speaking to a stranger.
In this article I want to give you an easy blueprint to follow when you want to talk to someone you don’t know. In general, the goal of any good conversation is to share and receive. Much like hitting a tennis ball back and forth, a good conversation requires you to share something about yourself and listen to what the other person is saying.
The structure for this type of conversation is certainly my opinion. Conversations should be natural, so do what works for you. This article is simply meant to give some pointers for people who struggle in this area.
Introduce Yourself and Share Your Intentions
If you want to start a conversation with someone you don’t know, the best way to begin is by introducing yourself before asking anything of the person you want to speak with. If you walk up to someone and ask them their name or some other question without first introducing yourself, this will usually be off-putting and awkward.
By introducing yourself first, this will put the person more at ease to answer your following questions. When someone knows your name, it makes them feel like they know you personally and then they are much more likely to have a conversation with you.
In addition to sharing your name, another good tip is to share why you are introducing yourself to this person. If you just say, “Hi, I’m Clara. What’s your name?” The person will still probably not be at ease because they do not know your intentions yet. But by sharing your name and your intention for introducing yourself, the person will know what is going on. We all like context. When we don’t know what is happening we are defensive.
You will have a much more natural conversation with someone if you say something like: “Hi I’m Clara, I haven’t seen you at church before and I just wanted to introduce myself. What’s your name?” Or, “Hi I’m Clara, I’m new to this church and I’m trying to get to know more people. What’s your name?” Or, “Hi, I’m Clara. I’m new to this gym. It seems like you know what you are doing on that exercise machine. I was wondering if you could show me how to use it?”
Once you make a quick introduction, I suggest you then ask a follow up question relating to the environment that you two are currently in.
Ask a Question About the Environment You Both Are In
I suggest you ask a question about the environment you are in because if you ask a question about the person it might still put the person on the defense because they haven’t warmed up to you yet. Asking a question about your environment is helpful because it’s not totally random. Relationships are always built on having things in common. If you just met someone and you don’t know what you have in common, you know for certain that you are both currently standing in the same environment. So start there.
In John 4:6-7, I think Jesus does this a bit, “Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’” If you were to keep reading this passage in John 4, you would see that Jesus ends up having a very in-depth conversation with this woman. But he started with the water. It was hot, there was a well there, and to start interacting with her, Jesus started with their shared environment.
So after you introduce yourself to someone you don’t know, start by having a conversation about the place you both are currently at.
I just started coming to this church. How long have you been coming here?”
“About a year.”
“Oh okay. What you like about this church? Do you have any recommendations on how to get involved?”
“Oh I really like the preaching. I haven’t gotten involved as much as I like but I did get to meet the pastor a few times. On the first Sunday of the month the church has a lunch so newer people can meet the staff.”
“That’s awesome, maybe I will try to go to that . . . .”
Obviously the examples are endless here. The point is that you want to start by asking this person questions about something you both have in common. The environment you are both at is usually a safe option to talk about.
Ask Questions About the Person
After you introduce yourself and have some small talk about the place you are both at, the next step is to ask something personal. Now you want to shift away from place and focus more on the actual person. In most cases if you ask them a personal question, they will most likely ask you one in return. And now you are in a real conversation.
When you ask something like, “So what do you do for a living?” Listen to their answer and then ask a follow up question relating to what they person just said. If you ask another random question about a different topic, sometimes it can feel like you are playing a game of 20 questions or like you are interrogating them. Build off of what they say to keep the conversation going. Whenever possible ask opened ended questions that would require more than a one-word answer.
Usually when they don’t have anything else to say, they will ask you the same question you asked them. If they don’t, ask them a different question. The key is to try to share your own experiences that relate to what the person is saying. If two people connect, the conversation will just keep going. This is when people walk away feeling like they really connected. In C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves he states:
Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”
Close the Conversation with an Invitation
When the time comes for the conversation to close, one way to transition out is to provide an invitation regarding the future. If you meet someone new at church that you are interested in, you can close with something like, “Well it was great to meet you. I’ll see you next Sunday.” Or if you feel like the conversation went really well and you feel there is chemistry, you could say something like, “Well it was really nice talking with you. Maybe we could meet for coffee sometime. Are you free next Monday?”
In summary, remember that every good conversation is about listening and sharing. Be yourself, but if you need some help, follow this structure to have a conversation with someone you don’t know: introduce yourself, state why you are introducing yourself, talk and ask questions about the environment you are in, ask a personal question, build off of what the person said, and close by offering an invitation.