Conversation blues
December 30, 2010 10:26 PM   Subscribe

I have social anxiety. I do horribly with face-to-face conversations. What are some things that hold your attention in FTF conversations and what tends to drive you away?

My family never did sitdown dinners and as a child, I never had a long face to face conversation with anyone by myself until I was 12.

Anyway, I've noticed that over the years, my conversation skills are okay so long as I'm not looking at the other person for the majority of it (in car rides or walking side by side). But once you sit me down with someone like over coffee, I don't really know what happens. I get nervous and ultra sensitive to the other person's body language. Conversation often goes to a stand still and even though I try my best to stay confident and upbeat, the conversation falls flat. And then I get super anxious/depressed.

And I know it's not just all on my head because the other person's eyes tend to wander all over the place and they don't sound like they're listening very much. Also I've observed how some of these same people interact with others in FTF conversations and they are usually, in contrast, very animated, maintaining great eye contact, etc.

I do have a quiet voice and I try to speak up and maintain lots of eye contact but for the most part, every conversation turns out the same, with me feeling dull and awkward and awful for wasting the other person's time.

I know I should seek therapy but until then, I want to know what people like me might be doing (unbeknownst to us) that are turning others off during FTF conversations. For the record, I don't talk about myself very much and may in fact ask too many questions. Or what tips can you recommend to change my behavior? I really try hard to be an attentive listener/ animated talker but the conversation always dies or they just looked so bored.
posted by taiscape to Human Relations (29 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
No one likes to listen to someone prattle on. No one likes to be interrogated. Strike a balance. Comment about things other than yourself which are broadly popular, such as movies or news stories in your area. Keep your comments positive or neutral, and brief. Ask for peoples' opinions on topics they know a lot about. Don't ask personal questions.
posted by Nixy at 10:37 PM on December 30, 2010

I suffered from extreme social anxiety until I started taking medication. I'm currently off medication due to lack of insurance... but since I've gotten used to social interaction (work and public places, mainly), I'm not that bad right now.

Friends/family have told me that when I ordered something at a restaurant, I kind of mumbled and acted confused a lot... which is why the waiter/waitress would look at me "strangely". Other times, I would be a little too animated and maybe turned people off.

Since I wasn't social, I observed a lot. And sometimes I enjoy noticing little details about others behaviors and "figuring out" what they are thinking... but other times, I think maybe I assume too much or over analyze others reactions (specifically to me). I think that could be a problem. The assumption that other person isn't listening or is bored of you could be wrong.

The best advice I was given - is what you say you do -ask questions. I'm naturally curious about people may go overboard with questions, though.

Keep in mind, a lot of social anxiety is caused by bad thinking. Another thing that helped me was some information a cognitive behavior therapist gave me on Cognitive Distortions. I realized that in all the categories listed as "bad" thinking were exactly how I thought. Once I recognized this, I was able to talk myself out of the times I was thinking these ways. This helped for social anxiety, panic attacks and depression.

So, I suggest maybe reading about cognitive distortions or asking a close friend/family member what they think about your interactions.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:44 PM on December 30, 2010

Also, I suggest books by David Burns
posted by KogeLiz at 10:46 PM on December 30, 2010

Well, I vote for asking questions! Lots of questions (but agree if you ask them rapid fire it could seem like interrogation). Most people LOVE questions about their likes and dislikes. Questions, questions, questions (about them)! They'll think you are a great conversationalist!
Do you have a dog?
What kind?
Is that your favorite breed?
Have you had other breeds?
Tell me more about that!
Do you go to the dog park?
How long have you lived in (city?)
Also, really practice the eye contact thing..make it your business to look at them in the eye--very important. no need to stare them down..but practice with clerks etc, until you get used to it. You just have a habit of looking can be "unlearned"..make it all an experiment!
posted by naplesyellow at 10:47 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth: the conversational style that you are comfortable with is fairly common. Talking while walking, or driving, is actually recommended sometimes for parents who have trouble getting a conversation started with their kids. Somehow it is less threatening.

Some people are able to talk for hours on the phone, but only minutes-or not at all- in person. So you are not alone in having this problem. Kudos to you for having the insight to recognize it and to work on it.

Ideas: be sure to give your conversational partner a chance to talk. Ask open ended questions about his opinions. And from what little I know about improvisation: never say no. That is to say, be open to others' ideas. Don't shoot down his likes or dislikes. Stay positive, even when expressing doubt.

Good luck.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:51 PM on December 30, 2010

It's hard to describe this but I think what happens is you become aware of yourself as now having a Difficult and Very Real FTF Conversation and the anxious--even frantic--voice in your head keeps saying, "How am I doing; am I talking too much, did I say an awkward thing there, OMG they are looking away; did I look peculiar when I did that/said that; are they getting anxious to get away" and so much is going on in your self aware state that you are drowning in self-consciousness. When that kicks in and takes over, no interaction is going to be successful.

Forget the "eye-contact, be animated, be attentive, act this way, that way" advice. Before you "go onstage," comb your hair, check your teeth, smile and then FORGET all about how you're doing.

Focus completely on what you are talking about, topics that interest you or that interest the other person which means you can learn about it -- it's just a little treasure hunt for things that are not already in your head. People will give you new ideas. and things to think about because they have had different experiences. Go into the conversation focused on how much new or funny or charming or different information other people will talk to you about and consider that you're making a haul of wonderful tidbits for your mind. Conversation is like going fishing or picking berries. You're supposed to get good stuff for yourself when you do it! The fish and the berries don't give a hoot about how you're doing, and neither do the people if you can just keep yourself out of your way.
posted by Anitanola at 10:59 PM on December 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

Also, some of the worst conversations I've had with awkward folks sprung from their failure to grasp reciprocation. They would ask a question, I would answer, and they wouldn't then naturally answer the question themselves. Or, vice versa, I would ask them a question, they would answer, but wouldn't ask me the same question back. For example:

A: Do you have a dog?
B: yes! A dalmation!
A: oh cool, i've loved dalmations since I was a kid. But I have just a cat right now. Thinking of getting a dog in the future. Where did you get yours?
B: out from a breeder in blah blah blah...


a: do you have a dog?
B: yep, a dalmation.
A: cool.
B: do you?
A: no, just a cat.

B is now wondering why A brought up dogs, and a seems awkward or at a loss.
posted by Nixy at 11:01 PM on December 30, 2010 [34 favorites]

Maybe try not forcing too much eye contact! When you have a close relationship with someone, the full-frontal-assault eye contact might be natural(ish). When with people you are learning about in casual conversation, it is ok to look away, brush crumbs off the table, stare at the ether, etc, while engaging.
Ask them questions, but also volunteer something about yourself!
posted by bebrave! at 12:42 AM on December 31, 2010

I too have social anxiety, and am way more comfortable talking whilst walking or driving. Oddly enough though, I'm really good at customer service jobs and when I worked in those roles, I always got feedback that I made people feel friendly and at ease. I attribute this to the fact that receiving indifferent customer service makes me feel awful (I take it personally, and feel like I've offended whoever's serving me, even though they're probably just bored and don't like their job). In other words, I can interact positively with people when I assume that they're as nervous and shy as I am when I have to talk to a stranger. (This does not work with close friends or family, where I have to resort to my walk-and-talk method to get a conversation going. Oh well.)

So: try imagining that your conversational partner is horribly shy and you want to make them comfortable. Ask open-ended questions (Nixy's script is exactly on the money). Smile. Pay (sincere!) compliments - do you like their bag/shoes/glasses? Where are they from? Sometimes this touches off interesting conversations about travel, gifts etc. Try to let the conversation flow naturally - sometimes I get distracted thinking of the "next thing" I should talk about, and lose track of what the other person is saying. Don't be afraid of going off on a tangent. Although, it never hurts to have one or two funny anecdotes up your sleeve in case of conversational emergency (mine usually involve bizarre things that happened when I worked in a large hotel).

Do you have a lot of interests, or things that you're passionate about? I'm fairly widely-read (I imagine most introverted people are - yay, books not people!) so I generally find some common interest to discuss with someone while we're getting to know one another. I have work-related friendships that have been started off bydiscussing a mutual interest in South Park, residential property investment, the pros and cons of local gyms, the horror that is the Twilight phenomenon...

If the eye contact thing is really weighing on you, can you make a little joke about it? "Oh sorry, I keep gazing at this point over your shoulder, I always worry that I'm staring when I make eye contact! Don't worry though, I'm listening." I suspect the eye-contact-selfconsciousness is not an uncommon feeling, and the more you think about it, the worse it gets, to the point that you're spending all your time wondering if you're staring rather than listening to the other person talk and now they realise you're not listening and they feel miffed and the conversation dies and gets stored in your brain as another example of your inability to have a good conversation or do the whole eye-contact thing which will only make future FTF conversations more awkward. Or so I've heard.

tl;dr - think less about how awkward you feel, and focus more on putting your conversational partner at ease. Imagine they're a very shy, nervous person. Try to make them smile.
posted by jaynewould at 12:47 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

People will talk animatedly about stuff they are really interested in. You need to find out what it is.

Things people are often interested in:
- Their kids.
- Their dog.
- Their hobby.
- Popular TV.
- Their sport of choice.
- Their future career. Not the job they are in now, but the one they WOULD get if only it wasn't for the mortgage and kids and whatnot.
- The subject of their postgrad studies.

Then you need to ask open ended questions about these things.

You have a dalmation? What made you think of getting a dalmation specifically? Did it turn out how how you thought it would?
You are studying worms! Wow! What kind of things do you learn about the worms? What are the long term implications of that?
You have a daughter? Is she just the same as you were at that age?
What do you think of the new manager of (sports team)?
posted by emilyw at 3:37 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you feel odd maintaining eye contact, just look at the tip of their nose. They won't be able to tell the difference.
posted by dougrayrankin at 5:22 AM on December 31, 2010

as SLC Mom says, it's not uncommon to prefer "side-by-side" conversation, especially for teenagers and very especially for men. (I peeked in your profile, it doesn't mention your gender.) Eye contact in humans can be confrontational, as can direct body-body mirroring postures; it's possible that trying SO HARD with eye contact makes people uncomfortable because it's "reading" as confrontational. I mean, you look at people when they're talking, but your eyes also naturally look at other things, and you don't STARE INTO THEIR EYES. You kinda look at their face, at their hand gestures, at your coffee, at their eyes, etc. But long, sustained eye contact is for romantic partners, parents reprimanding children, struggles for dominance in confrontation, and demagogues.

It's hard to even remember the last time I had a sit-down, do-nothing, face-to-face conversation. I'm usually either in groups, side-by-side, standing at a party so at an angle, or eating food (which takes considerable visual attention). Sitting down, face-to-face, nothing else going on IS awkward -- it's not a very natural situation -- and I'm a pretty good talker.

Silence in a conversation is not the end of the world.

For a long time I was a good "interesting" talker but not a good small talker. (And after a while being the "interesting" talker makes you offputting; people don't always want to talk about deep intellectual STUFF.) What made me better at small talk was engaging in normal, relatively common (or even universal) human activities (for my society, I guess I should specify). Going to college opened up a whole avenue of small talk about college sports and gentle trash-talking. Getting married opened this GIGANTIC VISTA of girl-talk that I had never understood how to participate in before about, well, weddings. Having kids also opened this entire world of easy, easy small talk. Having a driveway to shovel -- great smalltalk fodder. Car maintenance! Lawn care! Failed home improvement projects! Trips to relatives' in terrible weather! Why Christmas Trees cost so much! Nooooo, they're closing that awesome restaurant nobody ever went to! Apparently other people understand how to talk about these things without having to experience them, but me, not so much. I have to do them. So the more regular, everyday human things I do, the better I get at small talk. And it just happens naturally.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:29 AM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

(Now I'm thinking of times with more sustained eye-contact that are normal and natural, but again, super-sustained eye contact and trying really hard about it may be reading as weird or confrontational.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:30 AM on December 31, 2010

If it is relevant, I am a 20-ish female. It's good to know that I'm not alone in this, but it does make it considerably harder to make friends if you dread talking over coffee/ dinner...or are convinced that every encounter like that reinforces your image as a socially awkward person.

One thing I've thought might be the reason behind lack of eye contact is due to the lack of physical attraction. I consider myself very, very average looking with eyes that aren't beautiful, definitely not the type you'd lose yourself in.

I will try to use all of your advice, but I feel like I try to do much of what's been suggested other than curbing the negative thinking. I wish someone could watch me try and have a conversation and point out exactly what I'm doing wrong haha.
posted by taiscape at 6:16 AM on December 31, 2010

I haven't read all the posts, but a lot of people are pointing you in the direction of asking questions, which is good, but I would add a bit. For example, let's take naplesyellow's very good "dog scenario"

Do you have a dog?
What kind?
--here you need to make a statement, like "Really? A shepard? I love those dogs, my friend had one in high school"
Is that your favorite breed?
Have you had other breeds?
--now, since you're paying close attention to the other person, you see that you've shifted the conversation away from their own personal dog and into the wide realm of all breeds of dogs. So rather than "Tell me more about that!" (cause that's basically just another question) you could say something like "Yeah, Boxers are probably my favorite breed, because of their intense energy.. I'd love to have one so I could take it hiking with me..."

So now, rather than it being a flurry of questions for the other person, you're inserting statements that reveal your own opinions and feelings. The last statement provides the other person with an in to say something like "Oh I love hiking!" or "Oh I hate hiking!" which will keep the conversation engaging. Likewise, he could also keep talking about dogs...

The real idea, though, is to stay fully present in the conversation. If you're imagining what the other person is thinking, or worrying about how you're coming off, then you're not fully focused on the task at hand. If, instead, you are clearing your head, looking at the other person in the eyes and legitimately focusing all your energy on what they're saying, the conversation will continue and flow naturally. This is the place where you're hanging up, it seems. You're stuck in your head, and the other person can see that in a face to face conversation, because of your body and facial language. My guess is that your brain is actually more interested in how you are being perceived than in what the other person is saying, and this is turning people off...
posted by Glendale at 6:37 AM on December 31, 2010 [6 favorites]

"with eyes that aren't beautiful, definitely not the type you'd lose yourself in. "

If you're avoiding eye contact in casual conversation because you're concerned other people don't lose themselves in your eyes, I think you need to re-evaluate what you're looking for in these casual conversations, and possibly stop watching Rom-Coms. And frankly, physical attraction makes casual conversations MORE awkward, not less so. Honestly: Is this question about making good conversation with people you'd like as friends, or is this question about finding a romantic partner?

Wow has "eyes I could lose myself in" never remotely appeared on my list of what I'm looking for in a good conversational partner!

"but it does make it considerably harder to make friends if you dread talking over coffee/ dinner"

Make friends over a hike, or while sorting clothes for charity, or something else you don't do face-to-face. A shared activity is a better way to make friends than sitting awkwardly having forced conversations in a venue where there's nothing to do but converse, anyway. I was never into that "coffee house" scene in college where people would go sit one-on-one and have Big Conversations. That struck me as impossibly dull and stilted. Unsurprisingly, the resulting conversations had a tendency to stall out. (What's wrong with Big Conversations while lounging comfortably on one's dorm bed drinking cheap coffee with good music instead of listening to someone else's horrific soundtrack buying expensive coffee and sitting on pretentiously casual couches? Or maybe that was just the coffee house near me.) Plus, after doing an activity together, if you then adjourn for food, you can always say, "Sorry I'm so quiet, all that fresh air/hard work/whatever wore me out! I'm just enjoying the company. [smile]" Companionable silence is a good thing.

If this is such an awkward mode of conversing for you, why does it seem to be the one you're most interested in? Is that the sum total of the available social scene, or do you have a vision in your head of This Is How People Have Conversations? (Or does it just seem like your focus because of the question, and it's not really what you mostly do?)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:53 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I get the feeling that you don't realize that most people are, to some extent, faking it when they show rapport in a conversation. All those cues you are hoping to see are not necessarily true. You may be approaching conversation with too much honesty and sincerity and with your sensitivity levels set too high. Try an experiment - next time, act much more responsive and appreciative than you normally would. Be outrageously flattering. Be effusive in your praise. See if what feels insincere or obsequious or "going over the top" doesn't get a different response. Then work on dialing it back, in striking a compromise between honesty and bullshit.
posted by conrad53 at 8:52 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

@Eyebrows McGee

About the eyes thing: My intention isn't to spark romantic interest, as this is a problem I have with both males and females. However, I wanted to make the point that physical attractiveness might have something to do with it. Just as people let their eyes linger on something aesthetically pleasing like a work of art, so might they act more interested/sustain eye contact with someone who is more attractive. I don't think it has anything to do with romantic appeal--more like it's easier to look at someone who is "easy on the eyes."

I know that there are other ways of conversing. However, FTF conversations have been such a weak point of my life that I really want to get better at them. I'm not taking these thoughts out of some movie I've seen where people share Big Thoughts over coffee. People bond over meals/drinks. You can see it everyday, just walking down the street. I never sat across the table and shared meals with anyone as a child, but growing older, I've had to do this with other people quite frequently and I still don't know how to handle it. I feel like I will have to in most social situations (both professional and casual) and it frustrates me that I don't know what I'm doing wrong. If I'm in a group of three, I can see a difference in how person A interacts with person B in a more responsive way than they did when it was just me one-on-one with person A. I have a sneaking suspicion that it may have more to do with something physical (such as appearance, body language, and my voice) but I don't know for certain.
posted by taiscape at 9:51 AM on December 31, 2010

It sounds like you're uncomfortable with yourself. Start there. Tell yourself that other people do enjoy talking to you, you're not doing anything wrong, other people would be happy to get to know you, you're pretty, etc. If you think otherwise to yourself, tell yourself not to believe those thoughts. Those self-critical thoughts are shame talking. Don't believe shame.

Some specific strategies:

- if you feel awkward, just say so. Being straightforward about being nervous will often make you feel a lot less nervous. And the person you're talking to will probably feel warmly toward you because you're sharing your feelings with them. If you feel like a conversation is turning awkward, try saying, "hey, I'm sorry, I just felt really awkward there for a minute. Let's try this again" and start the conversation fresh.

- let silences happen. You don't have to be talking all the time.

- check in with your body while you're having the conversation. Notice how your stomach is feeling, how your limbs are feeling, etc. Just put a little bit of your attention on your physical sensations every now and then. That might help you feel more grounded.

- talk about yourself too. From what you wrote, it seems like you don't like to talk about yourself. Your conversational partners will definitely find it strange if you ask about them but don't reciprocate. They're having coffee with you because they want to get to know you too. (I think this ties in with your general discomfort with yourself. I know I've had trouble talking about myself at times in my life when I've felt a lot of shame.)

- comment on things going on around you. Easy conversation topics could be the cute dog/boy/girl that walked by, the new drink on the menu, whatever -- just experiencing this particular moment and the things happening in it with another person. You don't have to be especially entertaining at all. Just be present.
posted by zahava at 9:56 AM on December 31, 2010

If it helps to know...I read somewhere that most people don't maintain eye contact (unless they are really making a point of trying) for more than ten seconds at a time, at most. They MUST look away at some point. The differences you describe between yourself and how you perceive other people in this regard are of degree, not of kind.

I know this is easier said than done, but if you find yourself in this situation again, try not to think about yourself and how it's going too much. If you find yourself looking around at everything but the person, don't worry about it, just zero back in on them. Don't grade yourself.

And when you ask questions and make responses, make sure they are such that it's clear you have been listening. People LOVE to be listened to, be the center of someone's attention, and if they feel that way they are likely not to notice or care about how nervous you seem or how much your gaze is wandering or whatever (not that they necessarily notice anyway).
posted by mreleganza at 10:01 AM on December 31, 2010

About the eyes thing: My intention isn't to spark romantic interest, as this is a problem I have with both males and females. However, I wanted to make the point that physical attractiveness might have something to do with it. Just as people let their eyes linger on something aesthetically pleasing like a work of art, so might they act more interested/sustain eye contact with someone who is more attractive.

I don't think I am speaking just for myself when I say if I am talking face-to-face with someone I consider beautiful, it's HARDER to keep a gaze on them, not easier. That "lose-yourself-in-their-gaze" stuff doesn't come until later in the relationship when there is a mutual comfort level and usually already a romance underway.

"Aesthetically pleasing like a work of art" make many people nervous, self-conscious, and want to look away a lot. Again, I don't think you're that different from the rest of're just overthinking it.
posted by mreleganza at 10:07 AM on December 31, 2010

This may not apply to you, but I wear glasses and if I start feeling uncomfortable talking FTF with someone, I take off my glasses so they're a bit blurry. Then I'm not focusing on where their eyes are or whether they're slightly furrowing their brow at me or any other example of body language that I might try to interpret. It helps me concentrate more on the conversation.
posted by ladygypsy at 10:29 AM on December 31, 2010

I agree with the above post! What a coincidence as I was about to say the same thing. I thought I was the only person in the world who did this.
I hate FTF with someone I'm not really comfortable with or, if I am speaking to a group, even a group of close friends. I become very aware of the sound of my voice (usually too soft and too fast) so I adopted the trick of removing my glasses thereby putting them all slightly out of focus. I much prefer sitting next to the person I'm speaking with, probably because my voice is so soft- its almost a whisper. I think its because my hearing is so insanely sensitive. I hate loud noises or any sort.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 10:58 AM on December 31, 2010

Nthing the "lots of people feel awkward with eye contact" thing, which can also be cultural. For a few years as a teenager people, including close family, used to get mad at me for not maintaining eye contact properly, which I did because I felt like I was staring. I also know people whose eyes look vacant/staring off into space even when they are looking at you, because of slight visual problems. Personally I have a slight hearing problem, which means I sometimes have to stare quite intensely at a person's mouth when they are speaking.

I would suggest practising face to face with people with whom you are comfortable enough to get past the awkwardness, and asking them if you do anything off-putting. I would also suggest joining clubs or organizations or volunteering with people who already have a common interest, because it will be easier to break the ice. Once you get over that hump, the rest is easier. Do you have the same problem with people from work?

One other thing--this clearly makes you unhappy, so good for you in trying to work on it. But don't think you need to have a certain level of friendliness or personableness. It's okay to be a quiet person, with a small circle of close friends, who doesn't particularly like strangers or small talk or crowds or whatever. You've said "I don't talk about myself very much and may in fact ask too many questions"...maybe you're actually an amazing listener, which is rare. The worst thing you (or anyone) can do is try too hard and talk too much, one-upping the other person's statements.
posted by sarahkeebs at 11:00 AM on December 31, 2010

Other people have said lots of useful, specific pointers so I'll just add this:

Practice, practice, practice. Over and over and over.

Social skills are just that: skills. Like algebra. Some people are effortlessly fluent. Other people are initially baffled by a mysterious language with invisible rules, and need to learn by trial and error, reflection, and lots of repetition.

Force yourself to practice, starting with microconversations with people you'll never see again: with the barista at the coffee shop. With some person you spot reading an interesting book on the subway. With the person next to you waiting for the bartender at the bar. Ask a neat person at work to have coffee some time. This does require taking initiative, which can be scary at first, but I promise you it gets easier and easier each time you do it.

It gets easier because you learn from each one. Some of the attempted conversations will work really well! Some of them won't and that's OK. There are so many reasons why they won't, and you'll eventually learn whether it's because they are shy, whether they just had a shitty day, or whether what you said was something they couldn't engage with. Eventually you'll learn to see this before you even open your mouth and adjust on the fly. So, practice.
posted by squasher at 12:19 PM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

Two things: most people are so worried about *themselves* and how they appear to others and what's going on with them that they won't notice much about your anxiety unless you do really extreme unsettling things like stare blankly or try to make unblinking eye contact, move too close to them or don't show any interest in the conversation.

Second, related: most people love to talk about themselves and the experience of being really *heard* and appreciated is extremely valuable. So work on being a good listener and the rest will tend to follow.
posted by Maias at 3:50 PM on December 31, 2010

I don't always think it's healthy to accommodate a "neurosis" or underlying issue that you have. (Neurosis is probably not the best word, and I don't mean to be rude or insulting towards you.) But sometimes, doing that is a way to keep going and keep working on things until you can get the underlying issue resolved.

It sounds like you are saying a part of your self-consciousness comes from the fact that you don't perceive yourself to be very attractive, especially your eyes.

This might sound a little silly, but until you can address that issue and resolve it, it might help as a temporary fix to do things that allow you to feel better about your appearance or your eyes.

You can get interesting/cool glasses, or interesting/cool contacts, or invest in some quality eye makeup and learn to apply it. I think this goes so far as to be pretty freaky, but just saying, contacts/makeup/lashes can completely change the appearance of your eye.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:39 PM on December 31, 2010

You mention that you ask a lot of questions, and others have given good suggestions about how to ask good questions and gently reveal more about yourself.

But I wonder if your conversation could be improved by thinking about how you *listen* to people? I don't want to throw another worry into your mix, but most people (including me) are poor listeners, so it's worth considering. There's something called 'reflective listening' that I read about in a book called 'People Skills' that describes the technique. Basically, you paraphrase back what the other person said. Of course, to do that continually would be annoying, but I find doing it now and then can be good. It makes you really listen to what the other person is saying and stop focusing so much on yourself. It also lets them know that you've heard them, and they'll like that.

Also, David Burns in one of his books has a suggestion for conversational awkwardness. It goes something like this: you say to the other person, 'I'm feeling bored/awkward right now. Are you feeling like that, too?' Burns says (in his inimitable way) that this immediately creates an exciting sense of frankness, and a much better rapport. I can't say I've ever been brave enough to try it, but it probably works in some situations.

Also, I suspect you aren't nearly as awkward as you think. Good luck.
posted by 8k at 10:02 PM on December 31, 2010

I'm in the opposite boat (but on the same socially anxious shore) as you - I love talking one on one with people and clam up in a group. So I think I might know how you feel.

Try hanging out in small groups and see how you do. Less pressure. Maybe try some activities that aren't as intimate to start with? Go watch sports, when there's a lull you can go back to football. Plus you'll be that girl that's into sports. If you're feeling nervous, find something to hold on to (your chin, a cup...). If you feel the pressure really getting to you, remember this - the other person wanted to come and hang out with you. Would they really come out if they were expecting fifteen to twenty minutes of awkward, unsatisfying conversation? You're doing better than you think.

As for what to want to talk to the person, right? So what is it that you wanted to say? I think I understand your predicament - there've been times I wanted to talk to someone, but I couldn't really think of what I wanted to talk about. I beat myself up with frustration - Argh, I just like being around you! (this generally occurred with girls.) Then I realized, that's a perfectly valid thing to feel and communicate! "Hey, it's great to see you, how've you been?" Boom, done.

Also keep in mind that silence isn't necessarily a bad thing. If a conversation's run its course, let it be. And sometimes you just need a breather between thoughts. No reason to freak out!
posted by wonnage at 3:26 AM on January 2, 2011

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