The Shy Person's Guide to Talking to Strangers

Practice talking to strangers when you are shy and it will get easier.
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Shyness can make it hard to talk to strangers -- but not impossible. If you are shy, talking to people you don't know might make you anxious or worried that you are being judged. You also might not know what to say to someone you just met. Plan ahead and practice talking to strangers, and you will find that it gets easier with time.

1 Build Social Skills

If you are shy, you might be lacking the social skills needed to make small talk. It's not that you are not capable -- you just haven't had enough chances to learn what to do. Basic skills include having open and friendly nonverbal behavior and knowing how to start a conversation, according to the ACT article, "Overcoming Shyness." For example, when you first meet someone, give good eye contact and smile. Offer a conversation starter, such as "How do you know the host of the party?" Popular small talk topics include news, sports and entertainment, so be sure to stay on top of current events so you can comment and ask questions.

2 Start Small

Don't push yourself to jump into a conversation with someone you find intimidating. Start small, and build up your confidence, by talking to strangers in situations that you find less threatening, according to the Shyness Research Institute article, "How Do I Overcome Shyness?" Talk to the cashier at the grocery store, the clerk at the mall or the mail carrier -- most of these conversations will be short. From there, move to more demanding small talk scenarios, such as talking to a teammate or classmate. Practice asking open-ended questions to keep the conversation going, such as "How do you like this class so far?"

3 Practice and Rehearse

Prepare for small talk with strangers by rehearsing and practicing what you will say, says Indiana University Southeast professor Bernardo Carducci in the "Psychology Today" article "Shyness: The New Solution." Those who are "successfully shy" realize that they have trouble with social situations, and cope by planning and preparing how to cope. For example, you might rehearse a few questions to ask the girl in your drama class, such as "What was the last movie you saw?" or "What is your favorite book?"

4 Overcome Self-Consciousness

People who are shy tend to be critical of themselves and fear being rejected by others. If you want to overcome this fear of rejection when talking to strangers, try an experiment suggested by psychologist Bill Knaus in the "Psychology Today" article "Overcoming Shyness and Social Anxieties." Go to the mall, take off your watch, and ask 20 strangers for the time, giving yourself a few minutes in between each person. Some people might ignore you, but most will offer help. Some may even stop to talk. By the end of the exercise, your fear of rejection should be lessened.

Arlin Cuncic has been writing about mental health since 2007, specializing in social anxiety disorder and depression topics. She served as the managing editor of the "Journal of Attention Disorders" and has worked in a variety of research settings. Cuncic holds an M.A. in clinical psychology.