When it’s OK to Walk Up To A Stranger…And When It Isn’t

dolls friends
I’m pretty sure it’s because of six year old girls that we all fear this.

You know the deal: you’re in the sunny schoolyard. You skip up to your two friends, excited to tell them the FUNNIEST thing that Stephen Henderson just did by the swings – when they turn to you, one of them screwing up her mouth, then saying,

“Sorry. Private con-ver-saaaation”.

Crushed, you slink away, feeling the hot burn of humiliation in your chest.


I actually don’t remember a specific incident where this happened, but the fact that imagining this scenario just now has given me such a visceral, physical shame reaction, tells me that it definitely did.  

When you’re in a crowd – even if it’s a networking event or a conference, where protocol says it’s totally fine to walk up to strangers and introduce yourself – knowing who it is and isn’t ok to approach can take you right back to that hot summer afternoon.

What if you walk up and start talking – and they give you a withering brush-off?

What if they don’t – but everyone just goes really quiet and starts looking at the floor?  

Here’s the easy answer for whom it is and isn’t ok to approach:

Read their body language

How does this work with different numbers of people? Let’s take a look.

old man on bench

Someone standing alone:


(1) Looking around the room, smiling GO!

This one’s pretty obvious.  


(2) Playing with their phone, but occasionally looking around the room GO!

They are most likely using it as a crutch. If you like, you can start with a tentative, “Hi, are you busy, or can I come and say hello?”. Remember – they are likely to be as nervous as you are. If they are, they’ll be grateful.  


(3) Intensely typing into their phone with furrowed brow – STOP!

Wait until you get some looks upward.  


(4) Phoneless, but staring furiously at the floor

Remember – some of us do this because we think no one wants to talk to us and haven’t yet learned that this behaviour doesn’t help.  

A pair of people:


(1) Facing each other and speaking intensely, not breaking eye-contact with each other – STOP!

Not an easy conversation to enter.


(2) Standing together facing the room and scanning it, not talking – GO! meerkats

This sounds like safety in numbers.  


(3) Standing together facing the room and scanning it and chatting – GO!

This could also be safety in numbers. You can start with a smiley, “Hello” and if they give you a smiley, “Hello!” back and keep eye-contact, introduce yourself.  

Three or More People:


Here’s the golden rule:

If they don’t have to substantially change their physicality in order to include you in the conversation – GO!  

How to join a group with grace and class:


1. As you approach them: make eye contact with one or two members of the group, and a smile.

2. LISTEN. Don’t barrel in and start talking. That will seem intrusive. Do some good listening – with good eye-contact – and start getting curious about what you’re hearing.

3. Ask questions. This is how you enter the conversation – a thoughtful question or two about what’s being said, that will get someone talking further.

4. Then you can start to offer your own opinions and stories.  

Sometimes, the “worst” may happen.

You approach a group, stand and listen – then soon realise that they’re all bezzie buds, discussing a bachelorette party that you’re not invited to. This may seem like a disaster – but it’s very easy to deal with:

Just slip gently away, keeping confident body language, and everything will be fine. As you know (from watching THIS video), people will always follow your physical cues. So if you act as if it’s not a big deal – it won’t be. (And if that isn’t enough to calm you, remember the Magic Mantra: “No one is thinking about me; everyone is thinking about themselves, just like I am right now”)  

And there we are. For easy reference, here’s a little table (you can download a copy and save it, by clicking HERE):

Yes Yes Marsha - Whom To Approach Table


Over to you

When you’re at an event, are you nervous to approach people? If you’re already with others, do you look for stragglers? Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks so much for reading. If you know someone who has an event looming and could use this advice, please share this page with them using one of the round share buttons below.

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha  

PS want to know my best-ever client secret – and get even more advice, tips, plus stories that I won’t put on the internet? Come and join the Yes Yes Family – it’s free! Just pop your details in below:

Photo credits: Softness, becca.peterson26, Public Places, Neil T, all via Compfight cc


  • Amantha

    Reply Reply August 13, 2014

    Reading it all clearly delineated here I realize that going up to someone is not intrusive or embarrassing – it is likely to be an act of kindness. I am always grateful when someone rescues me from my freaked out isolation in a new place. Hey! Gonna give it a shot!

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply August 13, 2014

      Amantha, YES! I have SO many times nervously approached someone – only to discover later that they were grateful I did. Let us know how it goes!

  • Matthew Kleinosky

    Reply Reply August 13, 2014

    Nicely written and thought out.

  • Summer Stephens

    Reply Reply September 24, 2014

    What a great article, and excellent instruction. (And meercats. I heart meercats!)

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply September 24, 2014

      Thanks, Summer! And meercats – YES!
      (the thing I referenced in the secret caption was this:


  • Jenny Shih

    Reply Reply November 9, 2017

    THANK YOU, Marsha! You make this so easy and simple to think through, and by golly, I think even this crazy introvert can pull this off. THANK YOU!

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