4 Conversation Tips for Teens: Getting Past the Shy

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A lot of teens have been saying to me lately that they are unsure how to start up conversations with people or keep conversations going. If feeling shy is part of the issue, this blog article with conversation tips is for you!

Here are the four tips on how to better your conversations, meet people and feel more confident:

Conversation Tips #1: Pay Attention to Your Inner Critic/Voice

What is your self-talk saying to you? What labels does it give you? I’ve heard teens that I work with say ‘I’m shy, I’ll just screw up, I don’t know what to talk about, etc.” Pay attention to the messages your inner critic is saying about your ability to have conversations.

Once you have awareness of that, you can start to think about what your goal is when it comes to talking to others. What do you want to be able to do in your conversation with others? What would it be like to have a good conversation? 

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Try the following ladder exercise to begin changing what your inner critic is saying and increase your confidence with conversations.

First, imagine someone who is really good at conversations – Is it someone you know? A friend or an adult in your life?  What do you notice about the way they have conversations? What are some things they are saying? What do you imagine their inner voice says to them about talking to others. Some examples of things they might be thinking or saying:  ‘I’m a people person, I have lots to say, I’m confident, I’ve got this, I’m good at talking to people, etc.’ 

Picture a ladder, with the top of the ladder representing your ideal thought about having conversations; the version of you that is great at talking to others is at the top of the ladder!

Take a look at that ladder and think about where your thoughts are right now – maybe they are somewhere in the middle or towards the bottom – and imagine each rung is one step closer to being a confident conversationalist.

There are two things needed to move up the ladder (picture needing both hands to climb a real ladder – you move your left hand up, and then your right, left, right, etc.) Your left hand is like your inner game; When you practice changing what your inner voice is saying, to more confident thoughts. Your right is the tactile game; actually going out and doing the talking/practicing.

Conversation Tips #2: Ask Questions or Share A Compliment

Some tactile tips that teens have shared with me are:

Tip #1 Ask a question (people generally like talking about themselves). Be curious about them! Asking open-ended questions is helpful here, which are questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no” like Did you see that movie? Try instead, What movies have you watched lately? What did you like best about the book we read in class? How did you figure out the assignment today?

Tip #2 Compliment someone. It has to be an authentic, genuine compliment. Really faking it will be felt by the other person. But if you see something you like that someone is wearing or doing, it’s okay to say it. Something like “that’s a really cool t-shirt, did you buy it at ….? No? Where did you buy it?” 

Conversation Tips #3: Scroll Social Media for Topics to Talk About

Another thing I’m hearing teens say is that they don’t have anything interesting to say. This is where social media can be your sidekick! If you’re interested in specific topics like politics, social justice, sci-fi, fashion, exercise, environmentalism, etc., you can look them up and find information so you have things to chat about. It doesn’t matter what you’re drawn to, scrolling a bit can help you find things that interest you so you have something to bring to the conversation. You don’t have to know everything about it. Just a little.

If you’re still a little stuck, here are 120+ conversation starters by Cheeky Kid to get you started! Remembering just a few of these will be a helpful conversation tool to have in your back pocket.

Conversation Tips #4: Get Out of Your Head

Once you’ve worked on your inner critic and have some topics to discuss, you’ll be using your right hand on your ladder (remember that’s the tactile side) to practice real conversations.

Sometimes while we’re in a conversation we get stuck in our head. So we’re worried about what we’re going to say instead of listening to what the other person says. And often if we actually listen to the other person, that can be enough to get us to the next level.

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If you’re in your head thinking “what am I going to say next, what am I going to say next” it can be a slippery slope.

Stop and listen. Be in the moment. Some ways you can stay present are:

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Push your feet against the ground and notice the feeling.
  • Focus on a physical feature of the person – look at their eyes or their lips for example.
  • Try out the mindful/being present exercises in this article by Positive Psychology to make being present a common part of your life.


If you love to read, I recommend checking out The Teen’s Guide to Social Skills: Practical Advice for Building Empathy, Self-Esteem, and Confidence.

And remember to BE YOU! There’s nobody quite like you. If you need a little reminder on why being you is the best way to be, you can read my article The Social Chameleon: 10 Reasons Why You Want to Be Yourself.


If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook – thank you!

Chantal Côté, R.Psych, Pyramid Psychology – helping older children, teens, and young adults learn how to build bulletproof mindsets.