How to Start a Conversation

Some people seem to naturally know how to start a conversation. They can kickoff conversations anywhere, from a party, to a seminar, to a queue at the supermarket. I’ve always admired these rare people.

On the other hand, working as a social confidence coach, I often meet people who don’t know how to start a conversation and struggle with this, either all around or in particular types of situations.

Learning how to start a conversation easily and effectively has been one of the key points in developing my people skills, and this is a big part of why I also enjoy teaching it.

Forget What You Thought You Knew About Starting a Conversation

Chances are, you already have a baggage of concepts on how to start a conversation from word of mouth, family education, books and articles.

My first recommendation in order to boost your conversation skills is to leave them behind, because most of them probably come from limiting mindsets. I’m talking about mindsets that overemphasize the importance of politeness or make impressing others the conversational priority.

I find that most advice on how to start a conversation makes you come off either rigid and insecure (at best) or creepy (at worst). So I’m going to take you into a somewhat different frame for starting conversations.

I think you first need to get a good idea of how to develop your conversation confidence. Once you get the attitude component handled, starting conversations with anyone becomes a walk in the park.

Check out my instructional presentation on this topic on this page, which will teach you a simple, 3-step formula for developing your conversation confidence.

The Golden Rule: Be Friendly

4283376957 f7cabbd564 How to Start a ConversationForget about impressing people right off the bat when you start a conversation. You’ll have plenty of time to impress with your slick, charming self. I have one golden rule for starting a conversation and that is to be, or at least appear, friendly.

Your goal is not to impress, it is to show that you are a relaxed and sociable person who wants to have an enjoyable chat. That’s the best way to engage another person in a conversation.

When I work with my clients to help them improve the way they initiate a conversation, we focus on developing a friendly vibe more than anything else. And a friendly vibe is demonstrated mostly by your non-verbals.

So instead of focusing on coming up with clever conversation starters that will instantly woo the other person, focus on:

  • Smiling and holding eye contact;
  • Breathing regularly and relaxing your body;
  • Keeping your posture open and non-threatening.

Ask Good Questions

One of the most important tools for engaging another person in a conversation is your curiosity. Your curiosity best manifests itself in the way you ask questions, which is one people skill I think is critical.

First of all, you want to ask big, open-ended questions that require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer and create for the other person the context to really talk about themselves.

Secondly, you don’t want to stick with the typical questions as conversation starters just because other people do so. The questions you ask, in my view, should be authentic and reflect your honest interests. You have much better chances of taking a conversation somewhere by putting your real interests forward.

Yes, Preparation Is Fine

If you struggle with starting conversations with some people or in some contexts, it’s OK to use conversation starters you’ve learned ahead of time and practiced before. Equipped with good conversation starters, you will have a tool for engaging people and you will feel more at ease.

However, it’s really dangerous to become depended on lines and conversation starters. This instructional presentation on conversation confidence I made explains why. If you have trouble starting conversations, it’s a must to check it out.

On the other hand keep in mind that at a certain point, as your conversation and people skills sharpen, memorized conversations starters are best to be left behind. Furthermore, remember that good conversation starters reflect your authentic curiosity. They’re not lines you use robotically; they’re adjusted to you and to the social context.

A Conversation Is a Two-Way Street

I often find that lots of people hesitate to talk about themselves, especially at the beginning of a conversation. They may believe it’s impolite or they may not be comfortable with opening up, so they choose to bombard the other person with questions as an alternative.

Nobody wants to feel like they’re in an interrogatory when they’re having a conversation: What do you do? Where do you live? Where do you work? Where are you from? What hobbies do you have? That is too many questions for two minutes of conversation.

Study people who are able to start conversations with ease in a semi-obsessive-compulsive manner like I did, and you’ll notice they are very open and talkative, and they have something to say about almost anything. This is why I believe that learning how to start a conversation is an exercise in opening up more.

If I were to synthesize how to start a conversation in one concise phrase, it would be this: have a combination of friendliness, curiosity, authenticity and verve. This mix is an almost magical key which opens many doors in social interactions. And more open doors mean more options.

Image courtesy of Batara

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Comments

  1. Hi Eduard.

    Before I respond to this article, I want to say that your concept of e-mail coaching sounds quite cool. I don’t think I have heard of it anywhere else, and that is rare on this internet world.

    I don’t know if I can surely say now more than ever, but it feels like, now more than ever, people are more than glad to talk to you or me or whoever wants to conversate with them. We have a shortage of communication taking place, it seems, and so when I do go and talk to someone, they are as joyful as me because it is like filling a hole with the dirt that was supposed to be in it(probably could have made a better analogy). This sounds like an exaggeration, but if you go talk to some random person at a store or park or wherever, there is a good chance it will seem like they were waiting for someone to talk to them.

    Your message about being friendly and two-way minded is very relevant. The vast majority of people you are friendly to will be friendly back(random guess 95%).

    • Hey Armen,

      I often say that many of us live today in cities with millions of other people and yet we feel lonely and disconnected. It’s not enough to walk by lots of people each day. We need to also know how to interact socially and make a connection.

      Thanks for your thoughts on the coaching services.

  2. I think the most important part about starting a conversation is to be curious. Ask the other person questions and put your ego aside. Most of the time we worry too much about what we’re gonna say next and dun bother asking questions about the other person.

  3. Great advice. My only problem is that it’s hard to be curious or anything when I’m nervous and inside my head. You see I’m plenty curious about people when I’m alone at home but when I get it front of them I don’t feel comfortable and I don’t think straight.

    • If I had a penny every time I saw this happening… :)

      If you want to handle this issue, you’ll need to go one step back and work on your anxiety before seeking to master your conversational skills. Remember: attitude before aptitude.

  4. Great piece Eduard. I think you hit on some of the myths that often get perpetuated in the pick-up community. A lot of those aspiring “social artists” think they need to initiate conversations with negs (back-handed compliments) and DHV (demonstrating higher value). In a way, they feel they need to first “prove” themselves in order to warrant a conversation, which is obviously a counterproductive way of building a symbiotic relationship.

    As you mention, just being open and curious is usually all it takes to start a conversation on a positive note. Most people LIKE those who express an interest instead of feeling that they need to compete or “get on the other person’s level.”

    Also, when we are open with ourselves we are much more comfortable in our own skin (even with our own imperfections) and people are often attracted to that sense of authenticity.

    Great stuff.

    • Hey Steve,

      I’m familiar with neg theory and I think the principle behind it is partially sound but the application is messed up. It is good to come off somewhat aloof in a conversation and to not seem needy, but you don’t need to neg a person or DHV based on a memorized script to do that. There are much better ways to go about it.

  5. Great ideas Eduard! I think asking great questions is priceless. I’d also add ‘Be more interested than interesting’. Talk about the other person and not about you. Find out how you can help them or who you could connect them with in your network. That’s what really starts making relationships. Because naturally people will then want to find out about you and maybe help you in return.

    I strongly recommend the book How To Win Friends and influence People – it’s a classic by Dale Carnegie.

    Thanks, Matthew

    • Hey Matthew,

      That book is the first book I ever read that triggered my passion for psychology, although the book in itself is rather pseudo-psychology.

  6. Man, I’m enjoying every piece that you wrote. Would be better if you could write an article on persuasion hypnosis.\

    Cheerio!

    • Happy!

      My mind hasn’t been on persuasion lately, I’ve been more focused on the less subtle art of kicking peoples’ ass, but it’s definitely a topic for me to consider. ;)

  7. I cant start conversations when I meet girls. Please help me.

    • The reason for this is because people who struggle socially, struggle. That is where they currently at in their life. 90% of people who tend to hold too forcefully onto whatever it is they want, will keep struggling. Over attachment is anxious thought, there is no difference. in order to be relaxed like this site advocates, you need to learn the skill of letting go of your goals to the point you see things as objective as you can. View things from a perspective that all is Okay; its even Okay NOT to have a social life as it is to have one, they are all just choices; both only hold the weight that you ascribe to them.

  8. Hello Ed,

    I’ve been reading all your articles and I must say, Wow, just amazing.

    However, I would deeply appreciate it if you could make a piece on controlling and reducing anxiety. I am curious on what your thoughts and methods are in that particular area.

  9. I wonder what the trick is in order to be a good conversation starter and not be misunderstood to be some kind of desperate easy to get kind of person/girl ?

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