This subject doesn’t need much of an introduction because we all know how awkward it is to approach someone new, as well as how cheesy so many well-intentioned efforts can be. Yet mastering the art of an introduction is actually much easier than you may think.
Ask for permission.
Walking over to talk to someone new is only stressful if you try to think of the perfect thing to say to open the conversation. Rather than put more pressure on yourself, keep it simple when you walk up to someone you don’t know. Below, I highlight some very basic, easy ways to open a discussion with someone who catches your eye. You’ll notice that the examples include an element of asking permission, and permission is important because it gives the person you walk up to a sense of control in the situation.
It’s interesting that most people focus on the fact that the person starting the introduction is the only one who feels nervous or anxious, but the truth is that it can be anxiety-provoking for the other person, too. Think about it: You’re sitting there in your own mental bubble until someone comes over to start a conversation, at which point you naturally have a lot of questions. What does he want? Is she interested in me? Do I know him? By following some of the examples below, you can quickly let the other person know what your motivations are.
Examples: “I noticed you and thought I’d like to say hi to you. Would that be okay, or is now not a good time?” “Hi, I’m so-and-so. I was wondering if you had a minute to say hi to me.” “Hi! I’d love to introduce myself if it’s okay with you, but it’s also okay if you’d rather just talk with friends or have some peace and quiet.” Finally, there’s always some version of humor you can use. “A little birdy told me to come say hi, but I’m not sure if that bird can be trusted. I’m so-and-so.”
Mention the awkwardness.
You’d think that mentioning the awkwardness would make things more awkward, but the opposite is actually true. It’s not so different from what I told my 7-year old son to do to avoid getting bullied at soccer practice when he was forced to wear his sister’s pink shin guards because he couldn’t find his own. I told him, “Say to the other boys, ‘Would you look at these pink shin guards? How funny is that?’” The point: Beat them to the punch. When you walk up to someone new, owning up to the awkwardness – and not being afraid to talk about it – empowers you and takes the power away from any social anxiety. I know many men, for example, who believe that women want a tough, polished guy, but I wish they knew how many women find a little shyness or awkwardness attractive.
Examples: “I feel a little weird going up to someone I don’t know, but I told myself that it’s worth the risk.” “Are you okay with people coming up to you, or do you usually wish people would leave you alone?” Again, humor helps. “This is the part where you thank me for facing my fears so I could come say hi to you.”
Give them an out clause.
This rule is similar to the rule about asking for permission. After you have asked permission, introduced yourself, and mentioned the awkwardness, give the other person a chance to end the conversation – for now. There are two different ways to do this.
You can cut the conversation short and let the new person know where to find you if he or she wants to talk more. If you are uncomfortable or unsure of whether that person is interested, this is the safest choice. The other alternative is to ask the new person whether he or she wants to get back to whatever they were doing before, or whether it’s okay to keep talking.
Don’t introduce yourself and simultaneously expect that the two of you should subsequently launch into an hour-long heart-to-heart. In fact, I find that most people like to meet someone new and then have a moment to process it on their own or with a friend. If you give someone the chance to continue the conversation later, you send an important message: You don’t need to seal the deal in that moment. By giving the new person an out clause, you also show a certain level of self-respect. Your behavior says, ‘I put myself out there because I wanted to meet you, but now you’ll have to show me that you’re interested, too.’
Examples: “Well, I’ll let you get back to what you were doing but I’ll be sitting over there if you want to talk more later.” “Do you want me to let you get back to what you were doing, or are you okay talking?”
Walking over to someone you’re interested in is one of the most understandably stressful things a person can do. Don’t kid yourself by thinking that it should be easy or comfortable. However, if you keep it simple and remember a few basic principles – permission, owning the awkwardness, and an out clause – the interaction will become much less stressful!
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.