A lot of people make the mistake of thinking they have to tell a funny story or make a pithy comment on current events, and that’s not true. You just need to ask an open-ended question. A good question, along with eye contact and a smile, conveys “I’m friendly, I’m approachable, and I’m interested in learning about you.” I work with clients who suffer from anxiety, and I tell them to write a few questions either in a note on their phone or on an index card. I particularly like TableTopics, which are these small cards with conversation starters that you can get on Amazon. They give you interesting questions that everybody loves to think about. Something like “If you had a million dollars to give away, what would you do with it?” That’s great because there isn’t a right or wrong answer, so people will freely share their opinions. Even better, once you ask the question, you don’t have to say anything at all!
—Karen Cassiday, Ph.D., is the president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. She owns the Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago, in Deerfield, Illinois, where she resides.