How to Stop Stressing Over Small Talk

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Photo: 13/Tripod/Corbis

Small talk doesn’t have to be awkward. Psychologist Lynn Bufka, who specializes in stress and anxiety, recently did a Reddit AMA as part of NPR’s series on stress in America, and one of the questions she fielded was this: How much can stress affect my ability to make small talk?

Bufka responded:

Stress can interfere with many things we try to do. Some people can be very anxious about being evaluated socially and therefore are reluctant to make small talk because they are concerned about how other people will perceive their comments. In those situations, try to focus on the other person and draw him or her out- once he or she is chatting, you may start to feel more comfortable too.

In other words: Don’t make this about you! Maybe it’s owing to my reporter background, but throwing my conversational partner questions has long been my own personal way of dealing with the inherent awkwardness of small talk. If you can’t think of anything to say, sometimes the best strategy is to simply listen.