Random People: Art Of Learning To Talk To Strangers

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated September 18, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you ever had to wait in line at a store and found yourself avoiding eye contact, whether with employees or other customers? Have you ever been envious of someone who seemed so at ease in a crowd of strangers that they were able to have a casual conversation with anyone without coming off as “strange” or “annoying”? Perhaps you wish it was easier to meet new people or feel at ease at a party.

Let us consider this from a certain perspective: Many friendships start out with one person taking the risk of starting a conversation. Learning to talk to random people can be challenging — but also fun and rewarding. You may even make a new and lasting friendship with someone. This article will provide some insight into learning how to reach out to others and kickstart potential friendships.

Do You Dread Meeting New People?

Thinking About The Outcome 

A conversation is one of the most common ways to start a relationship with another person. No, not every conversation will lead to a new friend, but consider that the goal of every random interaction is not necessarily a lifelong friendship. Sometimes speaking with new people at the grocery store or the gym can lead to you being more at ease with your speaking abilities. A friendly chat with a stranger may remain just a friendly chat, but small interactions like these can help build your confidence. Think of it as practice for when you have a more meaningful conversation with someone who might become a good friend.

It is common to be nervous about the idea of striking up a conversation with someone you do not know. For many people, it can be difficult to overcome the fear of saying something inappropriate. You may be tempted to plan your conversation out beforehand. While this can be beneficial in some cases, remember that working toward authentic and genuine conversations can lead to increased well-being and lasting friendships.

Conversational Strategies

You might be anxious about the prospect of approaching — or being approached by — someone new, but studies show that practice makes “better.”

One study showed that over the span of one week of repeated exposure to conversations with strangers, test subjects’ perceived likelihood of rejection and feelings of awkwardness decreased, and their conversational abilities and enjoyment increased.

The following subsections explore some strategies that might give you a head start in pursuit of similar results.

Choose To Talk With People Who Seem Open To It

When thinking about talking to strangers, remember that not everyone wants to continue a conversation. It is helpful to learn to read body language. This way, you can differentiate people who might want to talk from the ones who are not open to the possibility. If someone is looking at their phone, is avoiding eye contact with others, or seems upset, it might not be the right time to spark a conversation with them.

Try Not To Worry What Strangers Think Of You

When you make yourself a part of a conversation in public, try to be true to yourself. It might be uncomfortable at first, but the self-perceived imperfections you might think everyone else notices about you are often inflated. Researchers have termed this the “Overblown Implications Effect”; in other words, others are not assessing your imperfections as much as you might think. Every person’s life contains an intricate web of experiences, and yours is no less valid than anyone else’s.

Ask Questions

One of the easiest ways to start a conversation is to ask the other person questions about themselves. This can get them talking about things that are important to them. It also increases the chance you will find a common topic of interest. As you find out more about them, you are likely to find that people often ask questions about you in return.

Look For Commonalities

One of the easiest ways to keep a conversation flowing is to find something that you can connect with the other person about. It may sound difficult when you consider how many interests you and the other person may have, but if you ask a few questions, you can often dig up commonalities. It could be that you went to a school in the same geographical area, that you are in the same line of work, or that you both dislike the new way they have placed the checkout line at the store. If you can find just one thing to connect over, it can make the rest of your conversation easier.

Resist The Urge To Make Assumptions

Assumptions and snap judgments are most often unhelpful on this journey. For example, if you see a woman with a child, it is not necessarily true that the woman is that child’s mother. You never know what topics might be sensitive to others, so you may find it is best to wait to hear about it from them first.

Getty/Luis Alvarez

Steer Clear Of Controversial Topics

When you want to make small talk with someone, you may want to avoid heavy or deep topics such as religion and politics. These are topics that can be very personal to people. Many individuals have strong opinions one way or another, and breaching one of these subjects may lead to a heated debate. Many people find that sticking with lighter topics — such as work, popular eateries, or movies and TV shows — make for a more pleasant interaction.

Think About What You Can Learn

Conversations with strangers can be surprisingly informative. Every person is unique and has their own story to tell. Yes, it may be stressful to talk with a stranger, but you may find it helpful to shift your focus on what you will be able to learn from them. It is interesting to hear all the different life experiences that people have had. Expressing genuine curiosity may help take some of the pressure off you, and the other person will likely sense your enthusiasm and reciprocate in kind.

Be Aware Of Current Events

When making small talk, it can be helpful to know what is going on in the world. If you have a baseline understanding of a variety of topics, you may find it easier to converse about them. Some examples include local affairs, the big news in sports, movies that are forthcoming, and the new restaurant that is going to be opening downtown.

Chat For Fun

Starting up a casual conversation can make boring errands more enjoyable than standing quietly while you wait to finish your task. Go ahead and smile, say hi, or crack a joke. It may help make you feel better about yourself and your day for relatively little risk.

Even if you choose to employ any or all these suggestions, keep in mind that you are simply striking up small talk with someone, not trying to turn them into your instant best friend. If the person you are engaging does not seem interested, try not to take it personally. There are countless reasons why a person may be uninterested — perhaps they are simply distracted by something else at that moment. You can try to engage with someone else at another time. In any case, it matters that you are on the lookout for social opportunities.

Social Discomfort, Social Anxiety Disorder, And Therapy

There is a clear positive feedback loop between self-esteem and social relationships, so if an individual’s social relationships are few, there is a good chance their self-esteem is low (and vice versa). By the same logic, improving one factor will likely improve the other.

It is not always easy to pursue this journey alone, especially when an individual experiences social discomfort or social anxiety. In these cases, seeking external help from a licensed therapist can be beneficial. Particularly for those experiencing social anxiety disorder, it might be difficult to meet new people, especially if it is in an unfamiliar location like a therapist’s office building.

Online therapy can be a great option for individuals who prefer to conduct sessions from the familiar comfort of their home. Platforms such as BetterHelp connect individuals with licensed specialists who can communicate using the method of your choice, be it via video chat, phone calls, or in-app messaging.

Online therapy can support “clinically meaningful improvements” in anxiety-related disorders. One study proved that a therapist-guided internet cognitive therapy program for social anxiety disorder showed repeated success across cultures, further proving that social anxiety disorder is treatable via web-based therapy.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Do You Dread Meeting New People?


Learning to talk to strangers can be a valuable skill supplemented by opportunities for personal growth, new friendships, and increased self-confidence.

For those struggling with social discomfort or social anxiety, seeking help from a licensed therapist, including online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, can provide valuable support on your journey to overcoming these challenges. Practice makes “better,” and with time, you might find that connecting with others becomes more comfortable and enjoyable.

Ultimately, the art of talking to strangers is not just about making friends; it is about enhancing your overall well-being and embracing the enriching tapestry of human connections. So go ahead, take a deep breath, and start a conversation — you never know where it might lead.

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