1.) Say statements instead of questions. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it works. Asking someone a question demands a response. And not just any response, but one that is on subject and within a socially acceptable time frame. You’re putting pressure on someone without even knowing it. Statements, on the other hand, demand no response, allowing the other person to answer when and if they feel comfortable or not. A question also provides you the opportunity to judge them depending on their answer, while a statement simply says something about yourself.
For example, say you sit down next to a co-worker during lunch break and they are eating something that looks very spicy. The question, “Wow, what is that? Is it really spicy?” can seem innocent, but it’s more difficult that you might think. The statement, “Wow, you must be pretty brave, that looks spicy!” is much easier to handle. The listener is required to do nothing, you were simply making a statement that their food looks spicy.
2.) Compliment them. Just as the above example indicates, the listener appeared to be “brave” when eating spicy food, not “crazy”. In addition, a compliment can open the door to letting them feel comfortable in their own skin. A simple, “Wow, you have beautiful handwriting!” can give someone that tiny boost of self-confidence they need to open up a bit more.
3.) Say something about yourself. People don’t, in general, willingly open up to strangers. Therefore, if you want someone to open up to you, you’ve got to make yourself seem a little less like a stranger, and a great way to do that is to say a little bit about yourself.
Take the above example in the break room. You can continue the conversation to say something like, “Wow, you must be pretty brave, that looks spicy! I never could eat spicy food, though I do keep trying!” In just one sentence, you have gone from “Stacy, the lady who sits at the west desk,” to “Stacy who wants to like spicy food.” It’s a small change, but a significant one.