How to Make Conversation
It is always hard to keep a conversation going when you have social anxiety.
How do you ask questions without sounding like an interrogator?
How do you keep the other person talking?
How do you not let awkward silences happen?
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How can you start conversations with people who have nothing in common with you?
Here are 10 ways to help ease your worries and make sure the conversation keeps flowing!
Ask Open-Ended Questions
The type of question that keeps a conversation going is called an “open-ended” question. this question can’t be answered with just a “yes” or a “no.”
An open-ended question gets the other person talking and will help them take command of the conversation again.
Open-ended questions usually begin with the words “how,” “why,” or “in what way?”
Some examples of open-ended questions include
- What can you tell me about your work?
- What did you think about the movie?
- Which was better, the book or the movie?
Open-ended questions help to build stronger connections because you are asking about a person’s thoughts, feelings, or interests.
Think of it like the difference between a multiple-choice test vs. an essay question. Which one elicits a longer response?
Open-ended questions also show that you are curious and interested in the other person, which leads people to be more interested in you as well.
One word of warning: most people have “automatic” responses to the question “how’s it going?” It’s considered a greeting instead of an actual question.
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So if you don’t get a lengthy reply, simply ask another question or say “no really, how have you been? I’m interested what’s been going on.”
Another tip: Ask questions about things you are passionate about. That way, when the question is turned back on you, you’ll have something interesting to say.
Listen Carefully to the Other Person and Repeat Back What They’ve Said
One of the easiest ways to keep a conversation going when you have social anxiety is to listen carefully, and then repeat back what the other person has said.
It’s not as hard at it sounds.
Most people will be so relieved that somebody is finally listening to them without interrupting or changing the subject that they won’t even notice that you didn’t actually say anything about what they just told you.
Just like asking open-ended questions, reflecting back what someone says helps to build rapport. You’re basically showing you understand what they’ve said and you are interested.
But how do you actually do it?
There are two ways to reflect back what someone says. You can either parrot (repeat a few words) or paraphrase (rephrase in your own words).
Share Personal Stories About Yourself
If you want to keep the conversation going, share personal stories about yourself.
This will help the other person feel more comfortable with you because they will know a little bit about what makes you tick and it will be easier for them to relate.
If you have social anxiety though, you probably don’t like to be the center of attention. If someone asks you a question, you might answer with the shortest answer possible. So what can you do?
It’s really going to hurt your conversations if you can’t talk about yourself. People want to learn more about you to establish a connection.
One way to do this is to to never answer a question with a one-word answer. So if someone asks, “How are things going?” Instead of saying “Going okay,” you could answer, “Things are good. My job is stressful right now, I’m looking forward to my vacation next week.”
Or something like that. Your goal is to expand what you say to say a bit more. If you’re naturally not a big talker, this will feel strange at first. Just keep practicing.
And if this still feels hard, try to keep score in your mind that you are sharing as much as the other person. So, it they tell you a story about themselves, reciprocate by telling something about yourself that relates.
Otherwise, you’re asking the person to do all the heavy lifting in the conversation and it will eventually die out.
Find Common Interests
A conversation will always last longer if you can find some common interests to talk about.
But how do you do that if the person is a complete stranger or a relative that you feel you should know (but really don’t!)?
If you’re starting from complete scratch, the one thing you know you have in common is the situation that you are in.
This is where the common conversation starter “How do you know the host?” is so popular. On an airplane, you’d ask your seatmate, “Are you traveling to New York or going home?”
For someone that you already know and are seeing again, you could make a comment like “your gardens are looking beautiful!” This is just an opener and a way to find things to talk about. Even better if you love gardens yourself.
Be in the Moment
Worrying about what to say or do in conversations can distract you from listening.
Do not get so caught up with the future that you forget to listen and learn from your present experience.
When speaking, pay attention, and stay focused on your conversation partner’s words rather than playing out every possible scenario of where it could go wrong.
People will also notice if you are not fully engaged with them. Yes, it’s not fair that your social anxiety makes you come across as disinterested, but that really is the end result.
And yes, being present in a conversation is a skill that you will need to practice. Start small, and try to be aware of your attention. Try to stay present in the moment for at least two minutes.
And a bonus: when you are mindfully present during conversations, you’re better able to show empathy toward the other person.
Most people with social anxiety are actually highly empathic, so this should feel good!
When you’re not present, you are actually being judgmental in your thinking. Usually this means dredging up things from the past or worrying about the future.
Try it sometime. If your mind wanders during a conversation, what are you thinking about? Then re-focus on the person you are talking to.
Increase Your Knowledge
Do some research so that when someone says something in passing or asks a question, you’ll know what they’re talking about.
It’s a great way to keep the conversation going because it makes you look more knowledgeable and likeable.
But how can you easily increase your knowledge?
Below are some simple ways:
- Have more conversations and ask more questions (yes, that’s a little “meta” for this article)
- Follow the news (such as by reading a newspaper or checking Twitter for trending topics)
- Listen to podcasts or audiobooks (check what’s popular)
- Try out some new hobbies or interests (especially trending/popular ones that interest you)
It’s no secret that it can be difficult to keep a conversation going, especially when you are socially anxious.
However, there are some great ways to make sure your chat continues on without any awkward pauses!
Be open-ended with your questions and listen carefully for the responses. Share personal stories (but don’t overshare). Find common interests and stay in the moment so as not to miss anything important. Lastly, if all else fails… increase your knowledge of current events so you can contribute!
Do these tips help? Let me know what works best for you in the comments below.
Related Posts About Making Conversation
- How to End a Conversation (in 6 Easy Steps)
- 41 Things Never to Say to Someone with Social Anxiety
- How to Manage Conversation Anxiety