1. The single most important thing is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.
You don’t have to agree with everyone. The point is have the curiosity to understand what they mean, want, dream of, etc.
2. Suspend your ego. Focus on them.
Don’t try to correct others. Don’t try to come up with something to show you can do better. You don’t want to create a fight-or-flight response.
3. Really listen, don’t just wait to talk. Ask them questions; don’t try to come up with stories to impress.
If you pretend to listen, you will end up shutting up and doing your own thinking. Instead, try to listen and seek clarification of the parts that interest you. You can repeat (quickly) and summarize from time to time to show that you are following.
4. Ask people about what’s been challenging them.
This has to be done with sincerity and authenticity. No one wants to show their weaknesses to strangers or sometimes even close friends. Do this only when circumstances allow.
5. Establishing a time constraint early in the conversation can put strangers at ease.
No one wants to be trapped and stuck with someone weird. You can appear to be in a hurry or mention you will need to leave in 5 min or so. That could put people around you at ease. If you come up to a stranger and ask if he/she has time to talk, that may give the impression that you are trying to sell something or you want something from them, that may turn people off.
6. Smile, chin down, blade your body, palms up, open and upward non-verbals.
Pretty much non-verbal communication to show acceptance.
7. If you think someone is trying to manipulate you, clarify goals. Don’t be hostile or aggressive, but ask them to be straight about what they want.
No need to get mad. Ask for what they want from the conversation. What is their agenda. Perhaps there are common grounds both of us can agree on. It’s ok if there are things we disagree on. Maybe it’s just that we look from different angles, or we have different roles to play.