How to connect and find common ground in any situation

How to have a conversation with someone new — or your uncle on the other side of the political aisle.

There are many circumstances in which you may find yourself with the opportunity or social obligation to start a conversation with someone you don’t know. If you are starting from apparently no knowledge of the other person, at least you know that you share the situation you are both in. Some good conversation openers might be, “How do you know James and Sharon?” (The party hosts.) “Are you visiting San Francisco, or going home?” (On an airplane.)

When initiating a conversation with a stranger, avoid asking overly personal questions. If you lead by asking someone if she’s married or what his job is, you may seem to be prying. However, if the other person volunteers that she has recently changed jobs or he is having trouble with his health, that may be okay as a topic. Likewise, launching into your own personal situation too readily might make the other person feel awkward.

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