Social Anxiety and the Art of Conversation

One of the questions I frequently receive from clients is how to start conversations. This is particularly difficult for people who have social anxiety and have to meet or get to know someone new. Some tips to make conversation more comfortable:

Ask something personal
We need a few minutes of small talk to warm up. But to make sure you don’t get stuck in trivial chitchat, ask something personal related to the topic. A rule of thumb is to ask questions that contain the word “you.”

Be genuinely curious
I work with clients both in the office as well as IRL social situations. I have them come up with three questions to ask people over the course of a conversation. Here are 3 examples of things you can try to learn about someone:

  • What they do for their work or craft
  • Where they live and what it means to them
  • What their future plans are

Share something slightly personal
One of the most popular conversation tips is to let the other person do most of the talking, but it’s not true that people ONLY want to talk about themselves.

Focus your attention on the conversation
It’s easy to become distracted by what you think you should say next, notifications on your phone, or your own discomfort. When you notice yourself getting self-conscious, bring your focus back to the conversation. This makes it easier to be curious. It is easier to make interesting conversation when you focus on what the other person is saying instead of yourself.

Circle back
Good conversation doesn’t have to be linear. It’s completely natural to revisit something you’ve already talked about if you reach a dead-end and there’s a bit of a silence.

Steer the conversation towards passions
It’s more fun to talk about passions instead of swapping facts about work. If it turns out that you have similar passions, delve into those. They can be a strong basis for connection.

Ask open-ended questions
Closed-ended questions can be answered with a “Yes” or “No,” whereas open-ended questions invite longer answers. Use open-ended questions when possible.

Ask for their personal opinion
It’s fun and engaging to get asked about one’s opinion. Getting into a debate if you disagree is not the point; it’s about stimulating genuine conversation.

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Embolden Psychology
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