As the world opens back up and people return to offices, and all the many different types of social events, we have the opportunity to interact directly with each other, not mediated by technology. This opens the way for some ‘old-fashioned’ conversations. The ability to initiate and sustain conversations is an art and a science that can be learnt and developed.

Additionally with the rise of loneliness, being able to build meaningful connections with others through conversations is a little like being vaccinated against loneliness and all the well-evidenced physical and mental health ills associated with loneliness.

So, what does the science say about having conversations?

  • TIP ONE – talk to strangers. it seems that conversations with strangers are more enjoyable than either party expect! And even though our smart phones are so addictive, we are likely to get more enjoyment out of talking with strangers.
  • TIP TWO – get their personal space needs right. Women from most cultures prefer more space than men. It is worth bearing in mind the cultural background of the person you are talking to, if you don’t want to make them uncomfortable.  If the person you are talking with keeps backing up all the time, it is a good guess you are moving in too close. NB the COVID instructions to ‘social distance’ is likely to increase everyone’s social space needs.
  • TIP THREE – Do not be afraid to get deep and meaningful right up front. Help the person you are talking with get to know you sooner rather than. Don’t wait for some magical perfect moment. There may not be a ’next time’. People want that connection with you so give it to them. Popole overestimated how awkward a meaningful conversation will be and underestimated how connected they will feel. 
  • TIP FOUR– Give compliments – it will show you are noticing the other person. Provided you are not coming on too strongly or inappropriately, people will take your compliment on face value. NOTE this tip does not give you freedom to be sleazy or inappropriately sexual. See Tip Two.
  • TIP FIVE – Don’t fret after finishing a conversation. People like us more than we think they do! Do not assume the worst. Do not let your worries about how you might have come across to a new acquaintance put you off building on that initial conversation; the other person is probably keener to talk again than you might assume. See Tip One.

In conclusion, you have everything to gain, and potentially not much to lose by talking with strangers in pubs and clubs and on public transport. Except perhaps time alone on your smart phone…

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Research Digest: How to master the art of conversation, according to psychology