How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Ask them easy questions
Start out by asking them questions that are easy for them to answer.
A good balance is around two or three closed questions that have short answers, and then one open question, where they have to think and talk more. Early on, it is often better even with open questions to keep them simple and easy.
When doing this, remember to sustain interest in the other person and what they have to say. Easy questions can lead to stock answers, but remember that the goal is to get the conversation going, not discover the secrets of the universe.
Easy topics include:
Isn't it a great day? Did you get out in the sunshine, today?
Did you hear about the accident down town? Isn't it awful?
Do you have a brother called Joe?
I do like your dress -- where did you get it?
Questions are an easy way to open a conversation, especially if you are prepared. If the other person is uncomfortable (and they often are), then questions that are easy for them to answer is a good way to make them comfortable whilst engaging them (rather than having them listen too much to you).
Early on, do also remember to stay away from potentially contentious topics unless you deliberately want to create an impact. Criticizing the Pope, for example, is a not a good idea if you do not know whether the other person is a Catholic (even conservative non-Catholics may find such a move disturbing).
And the big