20 Ways To Start a Conversation With a Stranger

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 8, 2022 | Published January 5, 2021

Updated August 8, 2022

Published January 5, 2021

Through the course of your work, you're likely to meet several new people, both inside and outside your organization. Knowing how to start conversations with strangers is a useful tool as you navigate new professional relationships. Establish a personal list of potential conversation starters to help you succeed in this arena.

In this article, we provide ideas and examples of effective ways to start a conversation with a stranger.

How to start a conversation with a stranger

Beginning a meaningful conversation with a stranger can feel awkward and nerve-racking at first. Whether you're well-versed at starting conversations or struggle with making small talk, knowing how and where to start is an important skill. Review these steps for starting a conversation with a stranger:

  1. Be positive: Go into the conversation with a positive attitude. Maintain appropriate body language to portray your enthusiasm, including but not limited to smiling and making eye contact.

  2. Take a deep breath: Take a series of deep breaths before initiating the conversation. This will help slow your heart rate and help relieve any nervousness.

  3. Remain aware of the stranger's time: If the stranger appears busy or focused, try keeping your conversation short.

Related: 55 of the Best “Get to Know You" Questions at Work

20 ways to start a conversation with a stranger

Review these 20 conversation starters to help you feel more confident when approaching a stranger:

1. Gather information

One effective tactic for initiating a conversation with a stranger is to ask them a question or a series of questions. Depending on the situation, you might ask them about the weather, what they're having for lunch or about a shared professional responsibility. Consider this example:

Example: “Do you know whether the company president will address us during the opening session?”

Listen to their response and think about other related questions or comments you can make to keep the conversation going.

Related: How To Make Small Talk

2. Compliment the stranger

Another tactic for beginning a conversation with someone new is to compliment them. This strategy usually leads to a pleasant discussion about the item or element you've complimented. Consider this example:

Example: “I like your briefcase.”

To keep this conversation going, try using some follow-up questions, such as where they purchased the briefcase and if it comes in different colors.

Related: 8 Ways To Improve Conversational Skills in the Workplace

3. Bring up a shared topic

Use your surroundings to help you establish a conversation with a stranger. For example, if you're attending an industry conference, ask the person next to you at a workshop what they think about the event. If you're grabbing lunch, point out your favorite dish to the person next to you in line. Here's another example:

Example: "Do you work in the building? I noticed your car parked next to mine yesterday."

4. Introduce yourself

An introduction is a straightforward way of beginning a conversation with a stranger. It's particularly effective if there are no other obvious conversation starters to rely on. Here's an example:

Example: “Hi, I'm Andrew. I just got transferred here and I wanted to introduce myself to everyone in the department.”

More than likely, the person you're meeting will share their name and some other information about their position with you, leading to a casual conversation.

Related: How To Introduce Yourself To Coworkers (With 8 Tips)

5. Ask open-ended questions

Another excellent approach for starting a conversation with a stranger is to ask open-ended questions. This strategy works best when you're attending a shared event and can ask about the other person's experience. For example:

Example: “I have never been to such an exciting workshop. What about you?”

In most cases, the other party should respond with their feelings or stories about other conferences they've attended, presenting additional conversational topics for you.

6. Stay up-to-date on current events

Current events are excellent conversation starters. It's advisable to reference non-political events in case you and the stranger share differing views. Consider topics like a local festival, or ask about a new book or recently released movie. Here's an example:

Example: "Did you see the annual Holiday Festival starts next week? I always enjoy walking around and viewing the decorations."

Related: 50 Small Talk Topics To Help You Build Authentic Relationships

7. Offer to help

If you see a stranger struggling with a task, offering to help them is a great way to start a conversation. Depending on the location and context of the interaction, you might use an example like this:

Example: "Let me carry that box for you! Are you new to the building?"

8. Share an interesting fact

This approach is best used when you're in a location or situation in which your interesting fact directly relates. When used appropriately, this technique can be highly effective for engaging someone new in conversation. Here's an example:

Example: "Did you know that statistically, elevators are the safest way to travel?"

9. Ask for their opinion

Consider asking a stranger for their opinion to open a conversation. This is a great strategy if you're out to lunch or looking for pens in your company's supply closet. Here's an example of how to use this strategy:

Example: "Which of these highlighters do you like best? I normally use these yellow ones, but the wax ones look really interesting!"

Related: How To Keep a Conversation Going: Benefits and 10 Tips

10. Ask for lunch advice

One effective strategy for starting a conversation with a stranger is to ask them about their favorite lunch location. This particularly useful if you're in an elevator or waiting for a cab or public transportation since it can be a quick conversation.

Example: "Where do you like to eat in this area? I normally work out of the 5th Street office, so I'm not familiar with this part of town."

The stranger will likely share their favorite eateries with you, and they may even invite you to join them for lunch.

11. Comment on a viral video

Viral videos are an effective conversational tool. Many people watch videos in their downtime or hear about them from their friends or colleagues. If you use this strategy, ensure the video you mention is work-appropriate. Here's an example:

Example: "Have you seen the video of the baby falling asleep in the ice cream bowl?"

Hopefully, this will lead to a conversation about other interesting videos or pop culture topics.

Related: How to find good topics for conversation (with examples)

12. Be straightforward

Sometimes the best way to begin a conversation is to be direct about what you're looking for or need. For example, if you're lost, ask for directions. If you want to eat lunch with someone new, state that clearly. Here's another example:

Example: "Today is my first day, and I don't know where to go for lunch. Would you mind if I joined you?"

Related: 18 Things To Bring To Your First Day of Work

13. Ask for help

Asking for help is an effective means of starting a conversation. Depending on the situation, you may need to ask a specific person rather than anyone in the vicinity for assistance. Consider this example:

Example: "I haven't worked out of this office before, so I'm not sure how this copier works. Would you mind helping me?"

14. Discuss common interests

In some instances, it might be obvious you share an interest with a stranger. Use the signal you see as a starting point for the conversation:

Example: "I see you also follow our local basketball team. I just went to a game last week! Have you been to any games this year?"

Related: 5 Key Differences Between Hobbies and Interests

15. Make an insightful comment

Another strategy for starting a conversation with a stranger is to comment on the situation in which you find yourself. This method works best when there's something specific to comment on, for example:

Example: "I see you also prefer to use the handset rather than a headset."

This type of comment allows the stranger to share their own feelings on the subject.

16. Mention a shared trait

Use this strategy when you're sure you and the stranger share a common trait. Making conversation about a shared trait is often a great way to form an instant connection. Consider this example:

Example: "I noticed you signed in with your left hand — I'm a lefty, too!"

When unique traits are involved, most people enjoy discussing the connection.

Related: How To Be a Better Conversationalist

17. Ask a question about their background

Asking about their background is a professional and inviting way to begin a conversation. Consider this example:

Example: "Welcome to the team! Where were you before you joined us here?"

18. Ask for advice

Seek advice from a stranger as a means of starting a conversation. Ideally, keep the advice you ask professional in nature and related to your environment. Consider this example:

Example: "I'm not sure which format I should use for my presentation. Would you mind taking a look and giving me some advice?"

Related: 10 Ways To Help and Support Colleagues at Work

19. Comment on a shared activity

Another opportunity is to comment on a shared activity or interest if it's obvious. For example, you might see a stranger wearing a pin from your favorite concert venue or a person reading a book you love in the lobby of your building. Consider this example:

Example: "I noticed you reading when we got off the subway. I just finished that book last week! Are you enjoying it?"

20. Tell a joke

Another strategy you might employ for starting a conversation with a stranger is to tell them a joke. This is best done if the joke is relevant to the situation in which you find yourself with the stranger. For example:

Example: "You know what can really make your Friday less enjoyable? Remembering that it's only Thursday."

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