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How to talk to strangers

The Guardian May 12, 2014




Stuck for a topic or worried about feigning interest? Here's how to mingle like a maestro


Captain Carlos Alberto, on the front fire truck and followed by the rest of the Brazilian team, parades the World Cup in Brasilia in 1970


Don't try too hard

If you're constantly trying to say something outstandingly original, you'll probably go blank. It's OK to state the blindingly obvious – we all do it, plus your "obvious" may seem original to somebody else.

Really listen
Everyone is guilty of drifting off during a conversation. Maybe you're thinking: "Wait till they hear what happened to me last week." Challenge yourself to find the one thing about that person that provokes your interest and ask them about it – it's easier to listen if you're interested.

Pay attention
Good conversationalists are attentive to what is going on – watching and listening to the person they're with, while also monitoring their own assumptions. This sounds like a lot to juggle, but once you start to pay attention, the art of conversation is easier to master.

Improvise
Learn to accept whatever subjects you are offered during a conversation, and make something of it - even if you're not an expert. Think like a theatrical improviser, who learns to take whatever happens on stage as an "offer".

Open up
Encourage people to talk about themselves but remember that real conversation isn't one-way. Ask questions, but also talk openly and honestly about yourself, or the conversation might feel more like an interrogation.

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