Tuesday, February 9th, 2021...1:57 pm

10 Tips for talking to new people

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By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

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Last week Gradlife ran our Talking to New People Workshop for Grad Students, which for the first time focused on how to make connections in online environments. Even though I helped to facilitate the session, I was surprised not only by how much I learned, but by how many Grad students struggle with talking to new people—myself included. So for this week’s blogpost, I’ve outlined our workshop’s top tips for how to talk to new people, and our advice on how to get past the fears that might be stopping you from reaching out in the first place.

1. Take the initiative to make a connection

While it can be easy to tell yourself that you’ll wait until someone reaches out to you first, if you want to connect with someone, take the initiative to do so. Not only will you be glad you did, but you’ll be proud of your bravery as well.

2. Foster an intentional mindset

Before you start a conversation, make sure you’ve set your intentions for how you want it to go. What do you want out of your interaction? How do you want to approach the person? No matter what, you should always intend to be present, kind, and empathetic; these are all important aspects of a successful and positive conversation.

3. Listen and show your listening

Conversation is a two-way street, and people can tell if you are only talking just to talk; in other words, people can tell when you’re not listening. Even if you are listening, however, it’s important to demonstrate to the other person that you are, especially if you’re talking over zoom.  This is called active listening, and it’s done by using non-verbal cues such as nodding your head, smiling, and “mm-hmming” as people talk. Active listening is an extremely important skill that can serve you in every interaction you have, whether this be with professors, employers, colleagues, friends, you name it!

a blue speech bubble reads "what did you do over reading week?"

4. Worried you’ll “freeze”? Ask open ended questions

A common fear surrounding talking to new people is that you’ll freeze during the conversation and run out of things to say. If you are listening to the person you’re talking to, however, you have nothing to worry about because you’ll be able to ask them open-ended questions. If you do this, I promise you that you will never blank during a conversation ever again. Not only is asking questions a great method for keeping the conversation going, but it’s also a great way to demonstrate that you’re interested in what the other person is saying!

5. Be willing to share

Remember when I mentioned before that conversation is a two-way street? While listening and asking questions is super important, so is sharing your own thoughts, knowledge, and insight. Of course, I am not saying that you have to share personal details about yourself—all I mean is that a good conversation is a kind and empathetic exchange of information between two parties.

6. Scared? Stressed? Anxious? Visualize the worst thing that could happen

Visualizing the worst thing that can happen is not intended to scare you, in fact, it’s the opposite. This is a good method to help you face your fear surrounding talking to new people because it forces you to play out your worries. Usually, once you play out the worst-case scenario in your head, you realize it’s not really that bad. This tactic can help to minimize the hold that your fear has over you.

a blue thought bubble reads "what is stopping me?"

7. Breathe and visualize success

While it’s human nature to imagine all the bad things that could happen, why don’t you also imagine the good? Maybe the person you connect with is super nice! Maybe you’ll think to yourself after “wow, I’m so glad I did that!” you just never know. If you do end up visualizing the worst thing that can happen, I also encourage you to imagine the best.  

8. How to turn a connection into a friend

Friendships are fostered through repeated exposure with someone you have something in common with. You have to spend leisure time together, and get beyond surface-level small talk. In order for a friendship to bloom and flourish, there needs to be mutual interest and mutual investment in the relationship by both people. It’s important to remember, however, that you can have different levels of friendship with different people. In other words, not everyone has to be your best friend, and building a close friendship takes time. You can also have class friends, casual friends, work friends, you name it! That’s the great thing about friends, there’s no one size that fits all.

9. Invite them to a Gradlife event!

Do you want to turn a connection into a friend, but you don’t know how to foster this repeated exposure? Why don’t you ask this person if they want to come to a Gradlife event with you? This semester, we are running a bunch of Grad Connections and Grad Escapes, which are fun, low-key events where grad students can connect, destress and have a good time! You can browse our full list of offerings on CLNx. (Or, why don’t you come check out one of our events yourself and practice all these new skills you’ve learnt from this post!)

10. Not sure where to start? Why don’t you try this?

Want to chat with someone in your class? Someone you met in a meeting? Someone you haven’t talked to in a while? A lot of people are feeling alone and unconnected right now, and they would probably really appreciate receiving a message like this: “I don’t know about you but I’m missing the connections of real life. Would you be up to spending a few minutes getting to know each other?” Of course, feel free to make this opener your own, but sometimes it helps to have a first draft to work from.

No matter the context, talking to new people can be tricky, and this is a common challenge that is faced by Grad students. While it’s completely normal to be scared or anxious, these feelings start to be a problem when they hold you back from doing the things you want to do. Sometimes, all you need are some starting tips to get you going, and I hope this post has provided you with the foundation, and the confidence, to take that initiative and make some connections.

If you’d like a safe place to practice and receive some more in-depth information, Student Life is running a Talking to New People Group Intensive Program, and applications of interest are due Feb 15th. They are also running another Talking to New People Workshop on Feb 11th!

As well, Gradlife is running another Talking to New People Online Workshop – Grad Student Edition on March 9th as a part of our Optimize your Graduate Student Experience Week: Connect and Thrive as you work remotely. Happy talking!

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