Do you find it difficult to make small talk with strangers? Most of us do. Talking with someone we don’t know can make many of us feel very anxious, especially if we happen to be shy.

Why is it so hard to make conversation with strangers? When you first talk with a stranger, you don’t know very much about them. You don’t know what their interests are. You don’t know what kind of a person they are. You don’t know if you have anything in common. You don’t know if you can trust them. The stranger you are talking with might be someone who hates everything you stand for. They might even turn out to be people you should avoid.

It’s no wonder that we are often filled with suspicion and fear when we talk with someone we don’t know. Human beings have always had a bit of wariness when meeting someone new. Don’t feel bad, it’s a kind of built-in safety mechanism that is supposed to prevent us from getting into trouble when we meet someone new.

In some cases, this built in safety mechanism works too well. Even when we are talking with a new neighbor or a new co-worker, we get overcome with anxiety. We worry what they will think of us if we can’t make small talk perfectly, yet everything we say seems to be stupid.

What should we talk about when we are making small talk with a stranger? The truth is, it really doesn’t matter very much what you choose to talk about in the beginning. It only matters how the rest of the conversation develops.

One reason why so many people have trouble starting a conversation with a stranger is because they are far too worried about what they are going to say in the beginning. Mentally they try out and reject many possible openings for their talk. In the meantime, an awkward silence ensues. The mind goes blank.

What matters far more that what you say is how you listen and pay attention to the other person. Instead of focusing on your topics, focus on the answers the other person gives you. You need to pay attention to what the other person says in response to you. You need to keep an eye on their facial expressions and their body language. Watch for signs of interest in a particular topic. This will give you clues about which way to steer the conversation.

When you feel awkward talking with a stranger, don’t put yourself down for being nervous. Don’t criticize yourself mentally for being imperfect at making small talk. Putting yourself down for being imperfect will just make your performance get worse. You will get even more tongue tied and awkward. Instead, give yourself permission to be less than perfect when making conversation, and go on from there.

Treat small talk with strangers as a skill you want to master. That means you need to have plenty of opportunity to make mistakes. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. That means you are experimenting and learning. Eventually you will become better at making conversation with new people.

Learning to successfully make small talk with strangers is a skill that can pay off in many ways. If you are good at making conversation with new people, it will help you to become a successful networker in your career.

Starting up conversations with new people you meet will also help you to improve and expand your social life. Who knows where your next friendship or romantic relationship is going to come from?

It just might be the stranger you met while you were chatting at the bus stop.

Author's Bio: 

This article was written by conversation expert Royane Real. Learn more ways to improve your small talk skills. Download her popular special report "Your Guide to Making Friendly Conversation" at http://www.lulu.com/real