How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends
  • How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends
  • How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends

How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends

3.8 37
by Don Gabor, Mary Power

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Small-talk expert Don Gabor has helped thousands of people communicate with wit, confidence, and enthusiasm with his best-selling book How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends. Fully updated for the twenty-first century, this easy-to-read book explains the simple rules of having a great conversation. Packed with real-life examples, FAQs, and helpful hints,…  See more details below


Small-talk expert Don Gabor has helped thousands of people communicate with wit, confidence, and enthusiasm with his best-selling book How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends. Fully updated for the twenty-first century, this easy-to-read book explains the simple rules of having a great conversation. Packed with real-life examples, FAQs, and helpful hints, this book will show anyone how to:

  • Start a conversation with confidence
  • Leave a great impression
  • Keep the conversation going strong
  • Make friends in cyberspace
  • Follow cell phone etiquette
  • Boost your personal and professional speaking skills to the next level
From identifying your own personal conversational style to having open body language, author Don Gabor shares his expertise on how to strike up a great conversation with anyone anywhere.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The New Yorker A gifted conversationalist.
Library Journal
From small-talk expert and writer Gabor (Words That Win) comes an updated version of his 2001 book. He covers all aspects of conversing, from asking the right questions to using body language effectively and dealing with awkward moments. Several sections address online communication in the personal, dating, and business environments. A particularly interesting chapter on cross-cultural conversational customs is a plus. If readers can manage not to be overwhelmed by all the tips to remember, their conversational styles will undoubtedly improve.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Revised and Updated
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.38(h) x 1.00(d)

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Chapter 1

Be Receptive — Body Language

One of our most important conversational skills doesn't come from our tongue, but from our body. Research has shown that over 70 percent of communication is nonverbal. "Body language," as it is called, often communicates our feelings and attitudes before we speak, and it projects our level of receptivity to others.

Most poor conversationalists don't realize that their non-receptive body language (closed posture, little eye contact, and no smiling) is often the cause of short and unsustained conversations. We are judged quickly by the first signals we give off, and if the first impressions are not positive and friendly, it's going to be difficult to maintain a good conversation. The following "softening" techniques can make your first impressions work for you, not against you.


A "softener" is a nonverbal gesture that will make people more responsive and receptive to you. Since your body language speaks before you do, it is important to project a positive and friendly image. When you use positive body language, you are already sending the signal: "I'm friendly and willing to communicate, if you are." Each letter in S-O-F-T-E-N represents a specific nonverbal technique for encouraging others to talk with you.

S = Smile

A pleasant smile is a strong indication of a friendly and open attitude and a willingness to communicate. It is a positive, nonverbal signal sent with the hope that the other person will smile back. When you smile, you demonstrate that you have noticed the person in a positive manner. The other person considers it a compliment and will usually feel good. The result? The other person will usually smile back.

Smiling does not mean that you have to put on a phony face or pretend that you are happy all of the time. But when you see someone you know, or would like to make contact with, do smile. By smiling, you are demonstrating an open attitude to conversation.

The human face sends out an enormous number of verbal and nonverbal signals. If you send out friendly messages, you're going to get friendly messages back. When you couple a warm smile with a friendly hello, you'll be pleasantly surprised by positive responses. It's the easiest way to show someone that you've noticed him in a positive way. A smile indicates a general approval toward the other person, and this will usually make the other person feel more receptive and friendly toward you.

O = Open Posture

The letter O in S-O-F-T-E-N stands for open posture. You might not realize that closed posture is the cause of many conversational problems. Typical closed posture is sitting with your arms and legs crossed, and your hand covering your mouth or chin. This is often called the "thinking pose," but just ask yourself this question: Are you going to interrupt someone who appears to be deep in thought? Not only does this posture give off "stay away" signals to others, but it also prevents your main "signal sender" (your mouth) from being seen by others looking for receptive conversational signals. Without these receptive signals, another person will most likely avoid you and look for someone who appears to be more available for contact. Closed posture discourages others from talking with you, and from approaching you in the first place. Closed posture can spell D-O-O-M for a conversation already in progress.

To overcome this habitual way of standing or sitting, start by keeping your hands away from your mouth, and keep your arms uncrossed. Crossed arms tend to indicate a defensive frame of mind, and thus one not particularly favorable to outside contact. They can also indicate impatience, displeasure, or judgment — any of which would discourage people from opening up.

Open posture is most effective when you place yourself within communicating distance of the other person — that is, within about five feet. Take care, however, not to violate someone's "personal space" by getting too close, too soon. Of course, if the situation calls for it, the closer, the better! However, be sensitive to the other person's body language, and the verbal and nonverbal signals she sends you. And remember too, there are cultural differences as to defining a comfortable distance for talking between strangers.

Some people will argue that just because they have "closed posture" doesn't mean they're defensive, uptight, or unreceptive to outside contact. They might say: "I stand this way because I am comfortable!" Whether you are really receptive or not, others can only interpret what they see. That's why people with closed posture tend to be seen as unreceptive to conversation. Open posture sends out the clear signals of openness and receptivity. It says: "I'm available for contact — come over and talk to me!"

F = Forward Lean

The letter F in S-O-F-T-E-N means forward lean, another element of open posture. Leaning forward slightly while a person is talking to you indicates interest on your part, and shows you are listening to what the person is saying. This is usually taken as a compliment by the other person, and will encourage him to continue talking.

Often people will lean back with their hands over their mouth, chin, or behind their head in the "thinking" pose. This posture gives off signals of judgment, skepticism, and boredom from the listener. Since most people do not feel comfortable when they think they are being judged, this leaning-back posture tends to inhibit the speaker from continuing.

It's far better to lean forward slightly in a casual and natural way. By doing this, you are saying: "I hear what you're saying, and I'm interested — keep talking!" This usually lets the other person feel that what he is saying is interesting, and encourages him to continue speaking.

T = Touch

The letter T in S-O-F-T-E-N stands for touch. In our culture, the most acceptable form of first contact between two people who are just meeting is a warm handshake. This is true when meeting members of the same or opposite sex — and not just in business, but in social situations, too. In nearly every situation, a warm and firm handshake is a safe and positive way of showing an open and friendly attitude toward the people you meet.

Be the first to extend your hand in greeting. Couple this with a friendly "Hi," a nice smile, and your name, and you have made the first step to open the channels of communication between you and the other person.

Some men don't feel right in offering their hand to a woman first. They would feel stupid if the woman didn't shake their hand. Emily Post states in the revised edition of her book of etiquette that it is perfectly acceptable for a man to offer a handshake to a woman, and that it would be quite rude for either man or woman to ignore or refuse this friendly gesture.

Some women, on the other hand, feel that they are being too forward if they offer a handshake to a man. They think the man might get the "wrong idea" if they extend their hand first in greeting. The problem is that there are two people who are afraid to shake hands. Of all the people I've polled on the subject in my class, there is nearly unanimous agreement: no matter who makes the first move, nearly everyone likes this form of physical contact. It's safe and nonthreatening for both parties. This keeps personal defenses down and creates an atmosphere of equality and receptivity between the people. More personal forms of touch should be exercised with sensitivity to the other person's body language, and in a warm, nonaggressive manner.

It is also important to end your conversations with a warm and friendly handshake, in business as well as social situations. Couple it with a bright smile and a friendly statement like, "I've really enjoyed talking with you!" or "Let's get together again soon!" This is an excellent way to end a conversation. You and the other person both feel good about the exchange.

E = Eye Contact

The letter E in S-O-F-T-E-N represents eye contact. The strongest of the nonverbal gestures are sent through the eyes. Direct eye contact indicates that you are listening to the other person, and that you want to know about her. Couple eye contact with a friendly smile, and you'll send this unmistakable message: "I'd like to talk to you, and maybe get to know you better."

Eye contact should be natural and not forced or overdone. It is perfectly okay to have brief periods of eye contact while you observe other parts of the person's face — particularly the mouth. When the person smiles, be sure to smile back. But always make an effort to return your gaze to the person's eyes as she speaks. It is common to look up, down, and all around when speaking to others, and it's acceptable not to have eye contact at all times.

Too much eye contact, especially if it is forced, can be counterproductive. If you stare at a person, or leer in a suspicious manner, the other person may feel uncomfortable and even suspicious about your intentions. A fixed stare can appear as aggressive behavior if it takes the form of a challenge as to who will look away first. It is not wise to employ eye contact as a "power trip," and will usually result in a negative, defensive response from the other person.

If you have a problem maintaining normal eye contact, try these suggestions. Start with short periods of eye contact — maybe only a few seconds. Look into the pupils of the other person's eyes, and smile. Then let your gaze travel over the features of her face, hair, nose, lips, and even earlobes! There is a six-inch diameter around the eyes that can provide a visual pathway. Remember, after a few moments, go back to looking the person right in the eyes. You can look back and forth between both eyes while increasing the amount of time that you experience direct eye contact as the conversation continues.

Avoiding eye contact can make both parties feel anxious and uncomfortable, and can give the impression that you are uninterested, dishonest, or bored with the conversation and the company. The result will usually be a short and unfulfilling conversation. So be sure to look into the eyes of the people you talk with, and send this message: "I hear what you're saying—go on!"

N = Nod

The letter N in S-O-F-T-E-N stands for nod. A nod of the head indicates that you are listening and that you understand what is being said. It signals approval and encourages the other person to continue talking. A nod of the head, coupled with a smile and a friendly hello, is an excellent way of greeting people on the street, or anywhere else. Like all the other softening gestures, it sends the same message: "I'm friendly and willing to communicate."


Remember that these nonverbal softening gestures alone do not replace verbal communication. Moreover, if you only see isolated gestures, rather than clusters of gestures, your perception of receptivity may be incorrect. However, when you look for and use clusters of these softening gestures together with good conversational techniques, you will create an impression of openness and availability for contact and conversation.

With practice and a greater awareness of body language, you will be able to send and receive receptive signals, and encourage others to approach you and feel comfortable. Begin to notice other people's body language as well as your own. This will help you to identify softening techniques and recognize levels of receptivity in others, thus minimizing the chance of being rejected. Look for people who display receptive body language and project receptive body language by using softening techniques — they really work!!

Dear Gabby,

I'm at a cocktail party, and I don't know anyone. It seems like everybody knows everybody else, except me. How do I go up to someone and start a conversation?

Thank you,


Starting conversations at a party is easy if you remember to look for receptive faces among the crowd. Use plenty of eye contact, smile, and above all, keep your arms uncrossed and your hands away from your face. Begin to circulate around the room, checking out the people as you travel to the food table, bar, or dance area. Keep your eyes open for familiar and friendly faces. When you spot someone who looks open to contact (you are reading body language and looking for open posture), then casually stroll over to the person and say, "Hi, how you doin'?" or "Hello, how are you?" You can introduce yourself right then and there if you wish, or make a comment about the food, music, environment, or anything else you can focus on in the situation. You can also give the person a sincere compliment, and then follow it with a ritual question based on the situation. It might go something like this: "I couldn't help noticing what an attractive outfit you have on. I just wanted to come over and tell you how nice I think you look. Are you with one of the companies or here as an independent representative?"

Copyright © 1983 by Don Gabor

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From the Publisher
The New Yorker A gifted conversationalist.

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How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The easiest way to get to know people is through conversation. Don Gabor outlines the basics of engaging in conversation, and provides tips and techniques to help you overcome initial shyness, ease your way into good conversations and, thereby enhance your business and social life. He applies plenty of practical troubleshooting advice to many typical conversational scenarios, and points out some potential roadblocks that can impede good conversation. Before you even open your mouth, you need to become aware of your body language and that of others. Gabor suggests ways to build up your sensitivity to nonverbal communication so you can apply various conversational techniques, such as ¿active listening¿ and scoping for ¿hot button¿ topics to start, build up and maintain a dialogue. getAbstract recommends this primer as a quick boost to help you reach out and connect with people in all settings.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I agree this book provide plenty of simple steps to better communication. The book is better than the CD.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book describes how to converse with business assciates, social aquaintances, friends, and loved one. The writing style is enjoyable, easy-to-read, and filled with examples. I thought this book was so useful that I included it in a college course I teach.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this was an informative and useful book. It provided useful tips in various types of communications and environments.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very good book on conversation types and styles. It describes Small Talk as a ritual. That's an improvement over describing it as boring or unimportant as is often done. This gives examples of the different types of questions and explains their purpose. Shows how to listen for Key Words in conversation, and to utilize them. Explains why most people have trouble remembering names and has ways to improve that. This lists 4 main conversation styles. Tells how each works. Gives the strengths and weaknesses of each style. Shows what to do and not to do when speaking to someone favoring a particular style. Included is a test to determine which style works for an individual. A high score is what someone favors, low is what can't be used. This shows that those who score medium in 2, or more, levels can shift from one to another. Someone medium in all 4, doesn't have a favored style. Unlike other conversation books, this book considers that an asset. Someone like that can learn how to understand all 4 styles, and to utilize each. The one complaint is that this should have been entirely a conversation book. The non-conversation parts weren't thorough. For example the section on Body Language was quite basic.
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