Quicks Tips to Help You Manage Anxiety During Conversation
Conversation anxiety can be a major obstacle if you have social anxiety. Do you hide from the neighbors? Avoid coworkers in the halls? Maybe you stay in your dorm room so you don’t have to talk to other students. The key to overcoming conversation anxiety is practice, something most people with social anxiety are lacking.
Why Conversation is Important
It can be tempting to avoid conversation altogether if you have social anxiety. If every conversation you have makes you feel bad about yourself, it can feel easier just to stop trying. If you are an introvert, it’s possible that talking to people can be draining for you as well.
For most people, however, work and life entails conversation. It’s far better to be capable (have conversation skills) and not fearful (reduced anxiety) than to avoid conversation at all costs. Even if you never become the life of the party or a social butterfly, knowing that you can carry on a conversation when needed will boost your confidence, help you advance in your career, and make it easier to develop friendships.
Anxiety About Making Conversation
Conversation anxiety isn’t just about not knowing the nuts and bolts of how to interact with people. It is often a worry that other people will judge you negatively during a conversation. You might think that they will judge you for being a poor conversationalist, a boring person to talk to, or even for showing signs of anxiety when you are talking. Your deepest fear is probably that they will think you are weird and want to get away from you. Remember this though—as Olin Miller said,”“You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.”
Most people in a conversation are there to learn something about you or form a connection. As much as it might feel like it, they are not there to judge you. What are you telling yourself that makes you think that? Start listening to that voice in your head, the judgmental one, and you will figure it out. Then replace that voice with one that is kinder, that knows other people just want to get to know you. Tell yourself something like, “People are not judging me. They have their own agenda that has nothing to do with me.” Say it to yourself often throughout the day.
If you’re still struggling with anxiety in social situations that is severe and holding you back, I suggest you seek out a licensed therapist who can work with you using cognitive-behavioral strategies or other therapies directed at reducing your anxiety.
Boosting Conversation Skills
Research tells us that people who have social anxiety may actually be missing some communication skills, most likely just because of a lack of practice. Conversation is more than just talking—it involves a lot of nonverbal cues and behaviors that take practice.
In particular, if you are socially anxious, you might not realize the nonverbal signals that you send out during conversations. Usually, these are that you are disinterested in other people.
Things like the following:
- looking down
- talking too quietly, quickly, or sounding unsure
- standing too far away
- smiling too much/too little
- crossing your arms in front of you
These things probably feel natural for you since you’ve done them so long. One way to work on these nonverbal behaviors is to practice one at a time. For example, for the next 30 days, practice speaking in a louder voice, if you talk too quietly.
Making Conversation Easier
Conversation is supposed to be fun, not an arduous task to get through. It doesn’t always have to be about making small talk or just meeting someone for the first time. If you struggle to make conversation with people you are getting to know better, consider if you would be better off doing an activity together instead of just meeting for lunch or coffee.
Some ideas might include the following:
- go shopping
- play a sport together
- do yoga
- go to a sporting event
- go for a hike
How to Make Conversation
The keys to just getting it done and making conversation include having a list of topics in your head to talk about (news, celebrities, sports, weather, family, hometown, travel, hobbies, work, etc.), asking open-ended questions, and planning an exit strategy.
Some people will be easier to talk with than others. Some people will have more in common with you than others. End the conversations that aren’t going well and go deeper with the ones you enjoy. Figure out who you find enjoyable to talk to and talk more with that person. That person is the most likely to become your friend.
By the same token, think about the people that make you feel most like yourself. Who makes you smile or laugh? Try to transfer that feeling of being your most relaxed and happy self into other interactions.
Most importantly, know how you will end a conversation before it starts. While some have natural endings because of a time-limited event, other times, especially at parties or gatherings, there may not be a clear end point. Simply say, “I’ve enjoyed talking to you” and then move on. And if someone says this to you, don’t feel bad.
Remember: “People are not judging you. They have their own agenda that has nothing to do with you.”