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How To Meet People At Parties: 7 Icebreakers

Shyness, especially at college and in the first years after, can be conquered.

(c) Feverpitched/fotosearch
Source: (c) Feverpitched/fotosearch

Many people tend to feel shy about meeting people. Shyness is not a problem when a shy person is with familiar folks. It's new situations and new people that trigger anxiety. Launching off to college or even to a party where everyone will be new can feel a lot less appealing if you feel excessively anxious. At college and in the first post-college years especially, alas, parties are a major way that people launch friendships. If you want to develop friendships, you've first got to get over the hump of getting to know that someone. Skills for how to communicate in a relationship begin with skills for getting-to-know-you.

Heres a batch of practical techniques to help you to pass beyond the initial anxiety-producing hurdles of meeting new people. The following 7 getting-to-know-you icebreakers are tried and true tactics for any party or social situation.

The tips are designed for a setting where there's new people all around you. At the same time, they work equally well in a situation where there's just one person nearby whom you would like to meet.

1. Decide that you are the shopper, not the shoppee.

You are hunting for folks who would be interesting to get to know.

Think of social connecting as a scavenger hunt where you are looking to learn interesting things and potentially discover interesting people. Being the one who is doing the searching puts you in a position of power which will ease potential anxieties.

2. Pick a person to connect with who is standing nearby. Comment on something in the environment to get started.

"Umm. These baby hot dogs are yummy. Have you tried them?"

3. Introduce yourself.

Names transition you from being just faces into two people who know each other.

“I’m Cathy/Karl.” (shake hands and they’ll say their name.)

If you are lucky the name will give you a starter for further conversation.

"Oh, Grace. That's an interesting name. People these days don't often get named after virtues. How did that happen in your family?"

4. Ask open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are questions that invite extensive information in the response rather than just yes/no answers.

The first word is critical. Open-ended questions generally begin with what or with how like in the example above.. Sometimes where, who or when work too. Words like are you, do you, have you, did you... are fine from time to time. They just tend to draw forth less information.

“How did your parents happen to name you Grace? Sounds intriguing, like a name with a story…”

“Where are you from?”

“What kind of work do you do?”

In general, it's less anxiety producing for the other person if you first answer the question about yourself and then ask them.

For example, "I love blues folk music like this. I like it in the background when I'm working as well as to listen to. What kinds of music do you like?

5. Comment on the answer you receive.

Saying something about their answer clarifies that you heard them and are taking their thoughts seriously.

Beginning with positives like “I agree, …” or “I like …..” sets a positive tone.

"I agree that this volume on this music is too high. I wonder what would be a tactful way to turn the volume down." Talk together back and forth several times on that topic before you ask your next open-ended questions. Otherwise you may come across as a prosecuting attorney.

6. Offer parallel information about yourself so the conversation does not become excessively one-sided.

Share something similar about yourself.

"I'm from Denver. I moved there a few years ago to be close to the mountains. I love hiking."

7. Let yourself explore that person’s world.

Getting to know someone is like reading a book or watching a movie. Aim to enjoy what you discover as the information flows.

Have fun!

And if you lose interest, move on to the next person. Remember, you are the hunter, not the prey.


Susan Heitler, Ph.D., a graduate of Harvard and NYU, is a clinical psychologist in Denver. Her book and workbook The Power of Two and her interactive website Power Of Two Marriage teach skills for relationship success.