It takes a lot of guts to approach a stranger and start talking. But, there are times when it’s act now or never see the person again, or when the strength of your feelings overwhelms you and compels you to act. Here’s a natural and easy guideline to connecting on a personal level. With a little modification, these steps also apply at work, at a party, in a restaurant, on a plane, at a trade show, or wherever the urge strikes you.
In a Book Store
While in theory, meeting someone while browsing the shelves of your local bookstore sound fantastic. When someone catches your eye, what do you do?
1. Act right away.
Don’t overthink it! Take a deep breath and adopt a great attitude: curious, enthusiastic and calm all are good, just pick the one that comes most easily to you. Make sure your body language is open (no crossed arms or hands in pockets) then approach calmly.
2. Say something.
Use a prop, like a book, to direct attention away from yourself. Pick up the book and wait about ten seconds. Then say something linked to the book. If you’re in the gardening section you might casually ask a question like, “Do you know anything about indoor plants?” Or if in another section, you might solicit some advice, “What do you buy for the chef/handyman/cyclist/ballroom dancer who has everything?” You could also begin with a casual statement tailored to the situation (perhaps something about the store or the weather) followed by an open question (one that begins with who, what, why, where, when or how). Anything that directs attention away from the two of you.
3. Build trust.
Once you’ve opened a line of communication, you need to quickly gain credibility. The best way to build trust is by linking yourself to the neighborhood by talking about your work, school, or community involvement — something local and reliable. You might say, “My office is next door, I come in here two or three times a week.”
4. Hunt for common ground.
Be on the look out for opportunities to say, “Me too” (or “what a coincidence,” “funny you should say that,” etc.). No matter what, be honest and sincere.
A ten second chat is long enough to tell if a person is interested; 30 seconds to tell if there’s potential; 90 seconds to tell if there’s chemistry. If it’s not going well, politely exit the conversation and don’t be discouraged. In meeting people there’s no such thing as rejection — there’s only selection. So be fearless, calm and detach yourself from the outcome.
If you feel a connection, escalate the intensity by subtly mirroring the person’s overall body position and voice (tone, speed and volume). For example, if the person speaks slowly and quietly, do the same.
If you are still chatting after two minutes and you’re interested in the person, ask for a phone number or email address. This can be hard, so if you don’t feel like coming right out and asking, then pick up on something you’ve been talking about and offer to send a link or some information if he or she will give you an email address. When you ask for this info, be calm and look the person in the eye. If they say yes, suggest a coffee or something casual, then say goodbye and leave the store. If it’s an unmistakable “no,” then say politely, “It was nice chatting with you,” and go about your business.