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When you’re single and looking to date, at some point all paths lead to the approach. Someone has to make the move and break the ice, or you descend into a dating stalemate where everyone sits around and wonders about one another.

This applies to women as well as men. Men feel the burden of making the approach, but savvy women know that it’s smarter to go talk to a man than to limit your options by waiting for them to talk to you.

The approach can be the toughest part of dating for many people, especially the Intellectual Badass, who may overthink the approach, speculate on numerous possible scenarios of what could go wrong, or just fear looking stupid. What should I say to him? How can I keep a conversation going? What if I make her uncomfortable? What if she isn’t interested? What if he has a girlfriend? How can I get her to go out with me? What if I get rejected?

With all these worries rattling around in your mind, sometimes it’s just easier to not bother and hope they approach you. But you know as well as I do that the probability of that happening is close to zero. So what do you do?

 

Taking the Pressure Off

One of the biggest problems with the approach is that people put too much pressure on themselves. They feel they must engage a stranger in a good conversation or, even more daunting, score a phone number or a date. Sure, you wouldn’t mind if those things happened, but those are rather lofty goals for one interaction with a complete stranger.

Instead, focus on simply making a brief connection with someone. Sometimes that connection leads somewhere, sometimes it doesn’t; but either way, if you connect with someone briefly, you increase the odds of getting what you want and you also build up your confidence just a little more. When you look at it that way, it’s win-win.

So how do you do this? How do you create a potential opportunity with someone while acknowledging that they may not be interested?

 

The Receptivity Test

When you decide you want to approach someone, you need to assess whether or not they’re receptive to you. This is where your ability to read body language will come in handy. First, are they making eye contact, smiling, or showing other signs of interest? If so, those are signs of receptivity, making it likely they won’t think you’re crazy for approaching them. Then, continue to look for signs of receptivity in conversation (see below). Once you sense they aren’t receptive, make your exit.

What if they aren’t showing signs of interest yet? For example, what if they’re sitting alone at a coffee shop, shopping for cereal at the grocery store, or standing in line at a bank? This is where the Receptivity Test comes in handy. Because it’s so important to establish receptivity when approaching someone, I talk at length about the Receptivity Test in Changing Your Game.

The Receptivity Test is where you toss out a brief question or comment, then observe his or her reaction. Is the reaction favorable? Proceed to the next step. Is it unfavorable? Move on.

Examples of Receptivity Test comments include:

  • “How are you?” This is simple but effective if you meet eyes in an elevator or in line somewhere. Sometimes it leads to more conversation. It’s also effective with someone you’ve seen repeatedly, perhaps at the gym or at work.
  • “Have you seen the Captain Crunch?” Enlisting someone’s help is a good, low-pressure receptivity test. So is asking for directions or asking for an opinion.
  • “Those are cool boots/that’s a great shirt.” Who doesn’t like a genuine compliment? I once spent an entire evening with a guy because I complimented his shirt.

These are good conversation starters. But they’re also the kind of questions that don’t demand much more than a very brief interaction. This is good – it’s less pressure for you, and less awkward for them. If they lead to more convo, great. If not, you can end it there and no one is the worse for it.

So what happens next? How do you proceed? Watch their body language. If he or she smiles, laughs, talks at length, or otherwise seems reasonably friendly, they’re potentially receptive and you can take the next step. If they frown or seem preoccupied, bored, or annoyed, or give you a one-word answer, that means they aren’t receptive – leave them be. If you aren’t sure, let it go; if they want to talk more, they’ll initiate next time.

Remember, the worst thing you can do is “corner” someone. You never want to make someone feel like they must talk to you. Try the Receptivity Test. If you get a good response, take the next step. If you don’t, move on.