You’re face-to-face with someone, and you really do want to have a pleasant conversation with them (or maybe you’re eyeing the exit).
But you just can’t think of anything to say.
And as you see the expression on their face change from friendly and open to awkward and uncomfortable, you feel worse.
You don’t know what to talk about.
Yet you’ve faced more daunting challenges and triumphed.
Ready to have the same success with sticky social situations?
I Don’t Know How to Talk to People
You’re not alone if you often find yourself not knowing what to say. And it doesn’t mean you’re broken — or socially inept — or a bad person.
The real reasons are far more common and less depressing than you think:
- You second-guess yourself whenever a topic or phrase comes to mind.
- You care too much about what this person thinks of you (again… not alone).
- You’re low on energy and having a hard time exerting yourself to be sociable.
Once you can identify what’s getting in the way of an easy two-way conversation, you can find a way through it.
What to Say to Someone When You Don’t Know What to Say
The secret of how to know what to say in any situation is to understand the obstacles you might face and to put yourself in the shoes of your conversation partner.
They’re not expecting perfection; they, like you, want an exchange that fits the occasion.
To that end, look over the following tips on what to say or do when you find yourself tongue-tied.
1. Get curious. Ask them what they’ve been doing since you last saw them.
Even when your social energy is at the low end, you can usually muster enough presence of mind to ask what your conversation partner has been up to since you talked last — or how their day has been going for them.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- How’s work?
- How’s the family?
- How are things going since you graduated?
- How are you feeling lately?
- What’s good in your life right now?
2. Discuss mutual interests.
If you have mutual interests, these are a great place to start. Ask them what they’ve been doing lately in those areas. Or talk about something they’ve created or worked on.
You can also share your own progress with a passion project of yours. Just be sure to leave them an opening to share their own.
3. Memorize some helpful ice-breakers.
Some questions are better than others for getting a conversation going. Memorize some of your favorites to keep them in mind for the next time you run into someone and want to take a moment to catch up. They also work when you’re meeting someone new.
Just as interviewers have some questions ready to use before the first candidates show up, keep some questions at the tip of your tongue (or the palm of your hand).
Even if the conversation is a short one, most people appreciate your interest in saying hello and seeing how they’ve been doing. Choose questions most people enjoy answering.
4. Prepare with useful information about the person you’ll be talking to.
If you know ahead of time you’ll be talking to this person, prepare yourself with some topics you know they’ll find easy to talk about: passions, projects, family, work, etc.
See what you can learn on your own about them before you meet. Your having bothered to learn about something that matters to them will make you stand out (in a good way).
Don’t cross the line into stalker territory, but do take a genuine interest in what’s important to them. They’re more likely, then, to show an interest in what matters to you.
5. Practice with people you find easy to talk to.
If you’re struggling to feel capable of social interaction, try practicing with someone with whom you feel at ease. Keep in mind, as you’re talking, that the next person you talk to is probably just as interested in having a pleasant conversation — the kind that lifts you up and reminds you you’re not alone.
Also, notice how some people you know put you at ease. What do they do that helps you feel more comfortable around them.
You can do the same for others.
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6. Say whatever’s on your mind (within reason).
Don’t overthink what you’d like to say. But don’t ramble on about things your conversation partner is unlikely to find interesting.
It’s one thing if they ask you for more information on something and you’re happy to oblige. It’s another if you take something they’ve said and turn it into a long, meandering tangent about yourself. Don’t be that person.
A genuine compliment is never a bad place to start.
7. Get out of your own head.
It gets noisy in there. Send your focus outward and find one thing about this person or about the situation you’re both in.
Make an observation, however superficial it might sound, to lighten the mood and get the conversational ball rolling.
It doesn’t have to be deep. Focus on making the moment pleasant for the other person. In doing so, you’ll find you enjoy yourself more.
8. Jump back to a previous topic.
Sometimes, the conversation meanders into awkward territory. And when that happens, it doesn’t hurt to jump back to a topic you both find easier to discuss. Sharing can easily transition to oversharing (and regret) when one of you is nervous.
Best to avoid that by sticking to territory where you both feel at ease. Unless this is a job interview, there’s no reason to put the other person’s quick-thinking ability to the test.
And if you both enjoyed talking about something a few tangents back, you’ll both appreciate the topic change.
9. Remember nobody’s perfect. Be patient with yourself.
You’ve probably heard the words “just have fun with it” often enough, but it’s not bad advice.
This is a chance to connect with another human; don’t make it into something it isn’t.
Your happiness doesn’t depend on how well this conversation goes. Be patient with yourself and with the people you’re talking to. There’s enough to stress about without putting casual conversations on the list.
10. Act as if you have good rapport with people.
In other words, if you’re not feeling confident… fake it. Walk with confidence, smile more (genuinely), and show real interest in what the other person is saying.
Use what they’re telling you to invite them to talk about something that already interests them. Make them feel as if, to you, they’re the most interesting person there.
Act as if you already know they’ve said good things about you.
11. Be authentic — and pass the mic.
If you’re low on energy (for whatever reason), you can be honest about that. No one has unlimited energy, and you don’t have to pretend for anyone.
Let them know if your mind is a bit foggy and you’re having a harder time thinking of what to say, while adding how glad you are to see them and learn more about how they’ve been doing.
Get the conversation focused on them, but don’t be afraid to share when they ask questions about you.
Now that you know what to do when you don’t know what to say, which of the tips listed above stood out for you? And what will you do differently the next time you’re stressing about a stalled conversation?