Over the next few weeks, I will discuss several skill areas that socially anxious individuals can practice to begin feeling more confident in their ability to face anxiety-provoking situations (see Part 1 and Part 2). And honestly, these are skills we all need to remember and practice at times. Today’s topic is…
Many people with social anxiety struggle with initiating and maintaining conversations. The best way to feel more confident with these skills is to practice, practice, practice. It might be easier to practice with close friends or family members and then work your way to interactions that may be more difficult like talking to strangers or peers. One important thing to keep in mind is that not every conversation is going to be long, perfect, and stimulating. There will be times when the person you are trying to communicate with is not responsive for reasons that have nothing to do with you. What you can control is that you keep trying.
1. The First Words: There are several ways you can go about starting a conversation and it will likely be different depending on the situation. If you do not know the person you might want to start with a brief introduction, “Hi, I’m Andrea Umbach from Southeast Psych” for more formal introductions or “Hi, I’m Andrea. It’s nice to meet you” for more informal introductions. You could also say, “I don’t think we have met, I’m Andrea.” Another route is to ask a question or make a comment based on the situation, “Have you been to this group before?” or “I noticed you are reading Harry Potter, how do you like it?” Lastly, you could simply compliment someone, “I like your necklace.” For people you see on a regular basis, a simple “Good morning” or “What did you do over the weekend?” would work.
2. Conversation Topics: So what do you talk about? Most conversations are about general topics such as: work, school, entertainment, movies, books, television, games, shopping, sports, hobbies, activities, vacations, holidays, weather, current events, family, pets, food, or future planning. There are many, many more. Oftentimes, people feel like these topics aren’t exciting enough, but honestly it is what people talk about. We talk about general topics in order to find out what common interests we might have with other people. And the more you talk to someone, the more you will find out, and the more you will have to talk about next time.
3. What if I get stuck? If you are struggling to come up with something to say there are a few tricks you can use. First, whatever the person asked you, you can ask it back. For example, if they asked how your holiday was you can answer and then ask them about their holiday. Second, instead of asking a question, you can simply reflect back what the person just said to you. If they just told you about their great vacation you can respond with “sounds like that was really fun.” This way you aren’t coming up with anything new, just responding to what is already going on in the conversation. This also shows that you are being a good listener!
Many times people try to tell me that they do not have opportunities for conversations. But there are really opportunities everywhere. At home you can talk to family members or neighbors, make phone calls, or talk on the computer. In the community you can talk while waiting (lines, elevators, waiting rooms), shopping (clerks and customers), on public transportation, at school, work, activities, and events. There are people everywhere and each interaction is an opportunity to practice your skills.
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