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11 Ways to Turn Strangers into Friends

“Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.” ~Shirley Maclaine

Up until a year ago, I saw the world as a place where very few doors opened for me. At first I thought it was due to being extremely introverted. But as time went on, I started to struggle with making friends.

I didn’t have many of them—and opportunities only knocked a few times a year. That’s when I realized my problems stemmed from my passivity and fear of actually going out and talking to people.

My few closest friends always told me to join a club or go to parties. People always told me where to meet people. But they never really showed me how to actually create conversation.

On top of that, I never really liked going to big social gatherings. I’m introverted and tend to be overwhelmed when a lot of people are around. I like talking one-on-one.

So I decided to do things my own way. I started talking to strangers on my college campus and in the city because I was tired of staying on the sidelines.

It was scary for a naturally timid person like me, but I decided to fight the fear.

Great things come to those who are willing to risk rejection and put themselves out there.

After two months of doing this, I made some great friends, simply by starting conversations.

It’s an empowering mindset to be able to create conversation with potentially anyone. There is always the choice to talk to whom I want to talk to.

I asked people what drink they bought from the coffee shop. I asked someone about her customized bike. I asked people to share opinions on things that affected me.

Some people opened up to me. Some people stayed shut down. Some of them continued talking about themselves when I put the spotlight on them. Others simply answered my question and left the conversation there.

All of these interactions allowed me to understand how to engage with people. For example, I learned that tone and body language are more important than saying the right thing.

Through my experiences, I learned that people are usually friendly and happy to talk to you.

I’ve been able to meet more people than I ever expected just by opening up to them.

That’s when I learned that it was up to me to be proactive and create my own doors instead of complaining that none were opening for me. It was up to me to create my own opportunities by connecting with people.

Besides feeling more connected, I feel happier knowing that I have the power to talk to whomever I want to. More opportunities arrived by networking with others. For example, I was able to pursue photography with a new friend simply because I reached out and asked.

Here are the 11 tips I learned about turning strangers into friends:

1. Say the magic word: “Hi.”

It sounds so obvious, but it’s the first big barrier. You have to be willing to put yourself out there to start a conversation.

I noticed that people are welcoming after you break the ice. It’s not something that everyone wants to do because it takes some courage to go up to someone you’ve never met before and start a conversation. However, more people are welcoming than we generally expect. When you encounter someone who isn’t, remember that someone else will be.

2. Detach yourself from the outcome.

When you don’t expect any outcome, you won’t be disappointed or offended if someone doesn’t respond to you.

There’s a difference between perceived outcome and what actually happens. How many times have you worried about a worst- case situation only to find out that it turned out much better than you anticipated?

If I don’t expect any outcome from whatever I’m doing, then I can be in the present moment and adjust accordingly.

3. Tolerate rejection.

If they reject you, it isn’t about you. It’s about where they are at mentally, so don’t take it personally. If they passed up on the opportunity to connect with you, then they missed out on something great.

4. Don’t mind what strangers think.

This is your life, and you have the right to talk to whomever you want to talk to. Not everyone is that open. Allow them to be how they and think how they do, without letting it challenge your courage.

5. If you feel the fear, do it anyway.

One of the best ways to combat the fear is to do it repeatedly. Push through the fear and it will start to feel more natural.

The fear may never fully subside, but if you continue to battle through it, the momentum you create will be more powerful than the remaining fear. For example, when I feel terrified of approaching someone, I think back to a calming moment or a moment that made me laugh. Then, the fear didn’t feel so daunting anymore.

6. Practice.

Don’t worry if you seem a little awkward or aggressive at first. If your intentions are authentic, you will come across that way more and more each time you try.

It’s just like any other skill where it gets easier with practice. A few of my first conversations with strangers felt scary and awkward, but they didn’t do any harm. It made me learn what I needed to work on.

7. Make it about them.

Talk about their interests, opinions, and ideas. Then respond to what they share.

The best way to keep someone interested in a conversation is to show an interest in their life. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Even if you don’t know a lot about a particular subject, keep asking questions to understand them.

8. Make them laugh.

Laughter makes the conversation fun and joyful. People enjoy talking with others who make them laugh. So get out of your head and don’t take anything too seriously—just have fun with it!

9. Try to discover their core passion.

If you see their eyes light up when they talk about something, ask more questions about that.

If you find a keyword that helps you figure out their interest, try to talk about that. For example, if I asked “How’s the weather?” They say, “It’s nice that it’s foggy since. It’s better to run in it.” Then you can go ahead and talk about running.

10. Go out and smile!

Smiling gives a good first impression. Practice in the mirror. Then smile to the world.

I noticed that people relaxed themselves when I smiled first. When I continued smiling throughout the conversation, they smiled back and really opened themselves up to deeper conversation.

11. Imagine that the other person is already your friend.

This way you’ll treat them that way instead of seeming awkward—and being comfortable around someone is the best way to start a new friendship.

Take a chance today and talk to someone new. When you’re friendly to someone, they’ll most often be friendly back.

Photo by Zach Dischner

Avatar of Matt Ramos

About Matt Ramos

Matt Ramos is a college student who wants to make the world a better place. You can read his blog at theapproachmachine.com . He writes about rejection, breaking social barriers, and altruism as a means of overcoming his struggle with social anxiety while making the world less boring.

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  • http://twitter.com/DianadeBelflor María Ortega

    I loved this post! I totally agree with the whole idea of treating the unknown people as if they already were your friends and being the one that starts the conversation. It’s completely true that if you are friendly with the people the majority are friendly to you.

  • Marisa

    LOVE this article! I’ve been doing this a lot recently after coming out of a dark period in my life. I am amazed at the doors that have opened as a result and the friends that I have made. It really is that easy to make friends out of strangers. Everyone should give it a try :)

  • Pamela Jorrick

    This is perfect timing for me..I’m working with a group of teenagers and this month we are talking about fears. I think the fear of rejection is a pretty powerful one for young people. But like you said- people are usually friendly and happy to talk to you. Thanks for the tips on getting past the awkward feeling, and just going for it. It’s difficult and unpleasant to step out and try to make new connections, but it’s probably more difficult to go on without connections.

  • Pattig

    Thanks you for sharing.  I struggle with this as well and often find it difficult to make new friends, especially now that I am a little older.  I tend to be more of an introvert and opening myself to strangers is scary, I tend to ‘clam up’.  So thank you for sharing your experiences.

  • http://saltwateracorns.blogspot.com Sarah Monster

    This is super helpful to me right now. Being in a new school I’m having a hard time making connections that go beyond the classroom

  • http://twitter.com/30vanquish Matt Ramos

    Yeah I can relate. I’m also in school, so it’s nice to talk to random folks whenever possible. At first it takes a lot of courage but every time you do it, that’s one more memory of “wow that wasn’t so bad.”

  • http://twitter.com/30vanquish Matt Ramos

    I clam up all the time until I realize that people aren’t aware of my internal feelings. So it’s up to me to get through that clamming up and say hi.

  • http://twitter.com/30vanquish Matt Ramos

    It is and it’s harsher these days. I wonder since we’re the generation of being more spoiled if we have a harder time taking rejection. Going for it is difficult but momentum is powerful, not caring (about an outcome) is powerful, etc. 0% chance when you don’t talk, above 0% when you do talk.

  • http://twitter.com/30vanquish Matt Ramos

    It is that easy! Glad your experience relates to the article.

  • http://twitter.com/30vanquish Matt Ramos

    Yes, the majority of people are very polite. They’re either too bored, scared, etc. to do it themselves. You have to be the one to take the chance.

  • http://twitter.com/chimerabellem Amber

    This is very helpful. Thank you for sharing! Maybe I can be confident in just saying Hi to people now. :)

  • JJ

    This is very helpful.  I spent over half my life with a handful of very close friends and now that they’ve moved on, I’m struggling with my underdeveloped social skills.  I often wish I knew how to to outgoing and I’ll work on using these tips every day.  Thank you.

  • Joris

    Same, new school. The ‘wow that wasn’t so bad’ is so true. Very helpful, thanks for this!!

  • Sabricent

    Good article and very helpful tips, especially for a fellow introvert like myself who would like to meet new people. Easier for someone in college though, you have less opportunity to socialize when you spend 8-5 at work all day. Thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose Alannah Rose

    I thought this was a really sweet & touching piece.  You are obviously so sincere and open, and reading it brought a tear to my eye.  Thank you for sharing this – I really enjoyed it!

  • Maddi

    This is great! I’ve had terrible social anxiety for years and this advice is really useful. It’s great to hear it from someone who is in the same position. Thanks for sharing some great stuff :)

  • http://jaredakers.com Jared

    Great list Matt and thanks for the post. Something that really resonated with me was your tip on perception, “There’s a difference between perceived outcome and what actually happens.”

    In most cases, the “worst that could happen” is way over blown in my head. Ok… all the time! Like if I approach someone they’re going to think I’m an idiot, tap dance on my head and spit seeds in my eyes.
     
    Something that was hard for me to accept was the concept that being shy or introverted is actually a sense of self-contentedness. I started a new job a few years ago and my life coach suggested I start off each morning and go around the office building and introduce myself to 3 new people each day. I thought he was crazy, saying, “I can’t do that, I’m shy!” His response was, “get over it, it’s NOT about you!”

    Additionally, the more I accept self, the easier and more free I can be to put myself  out there to see where I can be of service to others. Being introverted is lonely, and I just assumed that all these people knew how great I was and would eventually come to be. To have good friends and meaningful relationships, I have to be meaningful and a good friend. That doesn’t happy by osmosis.

  • riga

    Hi….I met a stranger and I started liking him…but we went outside and all 3 times but now he blocked my numbers ..I m trying to reach him..I jest want him as a friend…he did not say nothing…I want to meet him for last time …could I get that chance ….do he having d same feeling..I m dieing inside…

  • KT

    You should really write a self-help book because this is really good stuff. Thanks!

  • Rahul

    Thanks for the article Matt. I am in the same situation that you have mentioned in this post. I want to start breaking my barrier and talk to people.

  • Creating Extended Families

    The advise is very nice. It’s important to create a strong support system of friends who can be like family, and these are good starting points!

  • Tara T

    Thanks so much for these simple tips! I don’t have a problem getting out and doing stuff–its the making conversation with strangers that I struggle with! Glad I’m not the only one!

  • Clouse30

    Thanks for the info! It was a good read and very practical information. I am going to try these out. ;-) http://www.clousehousecoaching.com

  • JesLacasse

    Thank you so much for this article, Matt. I have just recently moved to a new country, & while I have a handful of friends here (who I met through my boyfriend), I am looking to meet friends of my very own. I have a real challenge with separating myself from the outcome of putting myself out there, & feel rejection far too easily, so this list is an excellent reminder to let all of that go.

  • Saad Khan

    I am really obsessed with this girl and she is a total stranger to me, well my cousin knows her and told me she works in the same place where he works. Turns out to be my cousins best friends cousin and the day I saw her I have been thinking about her, never happened before. I managed to get the balls and say HELLO to her, hoping things will work out. This article is great, Thanks

  • Ayush

    thanks a lot

  • Anonymous

    Great post with simple, practical advice that anyone can follow! Thank you for condensing your experience and sharing it with us! I’m sure your post has benefitted many. I’m gonna start putting these to practice today onwards!

  • Jillian Williams

    Thank you for writing this article! I am very shy and I can honestly say that I have no friends. I know it is due to the fact that I keep to myself and don’t ever put myself out there. This article helped me.