How Awkward People Can Start Non-Awkward Conversations

You’re not going to die if you talk to a new person. (Really, you won’t.) Especially if you follow these rules.

How Awkward People Can Start Non-Awkward Conversations

“Remember that most people in the room at any given networking event feel the same way you do,” Anna Runyan writes for the Daily Muse. “Scared to death.”


Why? Because new people are frightening and if you talk to them you could sound weird and what would you talk about anyway and why does a silly thing like a conference table make us feel so weirdly vulnerable?

What are we to do?

Desensitization therapy? Sounds scary. It’s not.

If you took a major fear to a psychologist, they might recommend that you experience desensitization therapy. This is where you experience the thing that scares the crap out of you in small to increasingly larger doses, so that one day it only scares a fart out of you, and one day nary a bowel movement. An example could be if you were afraid of flying, you’d first play a flight-simulating video game, then go to an airport, then step on a plane while its on the ground, then finally take a flight.

We can think about conversations (and negotiations and public speaking) in the same way: by giving ourselves little doses of ice breaking so that by the time the conference comes, it isn’t a big deal. Like by talking to the person on the subway (what are you reading?), the colleague at lunch (where’d you get that?), or the girl with the puppy (Oh, my god. It’s so cute!).

But short of finding someone reading Tiny Beautiful Things or carrying a Tiny Beautiful Thing with them, we sometimes need to find ways to simple start a conversation. So let’s go over a few–and if you have any more, tell us!

Be sincere.

“What’s your story?” gives the other guy pause and will summon up a non-generic response, says Leslie Forman.


“I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed by the deluge of info that’s being firehosed at us today. Is there one nugget of brilliance that’s really resonating with you?”: Alexandra Franzen opines. This one allows the other person to show off how smart they are. And you to appreciate that.

“I’m trying to make myself meet new people here instead of just talking to the usual suspects. Do you mind me saying hello and introducing myself?”: XOJane editor Mandy Stadtmiller. That’s nice, right ?

“What’s your connection to the event?”: This can uncover mutual contacts, Allison Graham has observed, so you can then start talking about them.

“Who is the most interesting person that you’ve met tonight at this event”: Commenter David Desouza likes this one because it’ll help you ferret out who’s interesting to talk to–but our other commenters jumped on him for being a tad rude.

Which brings us to a larger question: What are we talking about when we say networking?

Hat tip: Daily Muse


[Image: Flickr user Ben K Adams]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.