Asking Small Talk Follow-Up Questions When You Have SAD

Ask questions to get to know someone better.

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Follow-up questions are an important part of the conversation. Without follow-up questions, you and your conversation partner will end up asking and responding to a series of questions without ever talking in-depth about any particular topic—which will feel awkward. Follow-up questions keep the conversation moving forward and allow for clarification and elaboration of details.

However, if you live with social anxiety disorder, asking follow-up questions or even making small talk in the first place may feel uncomfortable—or downright anxiety-provoking. While you work on your social anxiety with the help of treatment, use the tips below to also brush up on your small talk skills. Having this list of types of questions ready will give you confidence and help to reduce the social anxiety that you feel.

Steps to Asking Follow-Up Questions

Small talk generally starts with a conversation about topics such as the weather, family, work, hobbies, and other interests.

There are two ways to get another person to talk: by asking yes/no or open-ended questions.

Yes/No Questions

Yes/no questions require only a yes or no answer from your conversation partner. These questions often start with words such as "would," "should," "is," "are," "did," "do," etc.

  • "Did you watch the season finale of The Voice last night?"
  • "Do you go to church on Sundays?"
  • "Do you like to travel?"

Open-Ended Questions

Obviously, you can see how some of the above yes/no questions would lead to a conversation. However, you can also lead your partner deeper into topics by asking questions that take a bit more explanation. These questions take a different form, beginning with words such as "how," "why," "what," and "where." 

  • "How many siblings do you have?"
  • "What do you do for fun on the weekend?"
  • "How do you like being an accountant?"

Whether you begin small talk by asking yes/no questions or open-ended questions, you will want to ask follow-up questions to further the conversation.

Follow-Up Questions

If your conversation partner responds that he did watch The Voice (or any other show) the night before, follow up with a question to obtain more details:

  • "Who is your favorite judge on the show?"
  • "Who do you think is going to win?"

It is best to choose a topic that you know a little bit about so that you can follow the other person's response with your own point of view.

If the person responds to the open-ended question by saying that he has one sister, some potential follow-up questions might include:

  • "Where does she live?"
  • "What does she do?"
  • "How often do you see her?"

When thinking of follow-up questions, the following keywords can be used to build upon:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • How? 
  • Why? 
  • Where? 
  • When? 
  • Meaning? 
  • And? 

Once you are in the habit of asking follow-up questions, it will become easier to generate them during a conversation. Remember, though, to always listen carefully to what the other person has to say. Only formulate your question once the person has finished speaking because what he or she says will likely affect what you ask next.

One way to do this is by practicing active listening, in which you listen as though you might need to explain what the person is saying to someone else. If something doesn't make sense or you don't understand it, ask for clarification.

Reading Between the Lines Through Follow-up Questions

Sometimes during the conversation, the other person will give you little pieces of information that hint at what he or she wants you to ask about next. A person might say something like "I have been working as an accountant, but I'm not sure for how much longer."

In this instance, consider asking follow-up questions that help you to clarify what the other person is thinking: "What do you mean by that?" or "Why do you think that?"

Use these when you feel the need to understand the other person's point of view or how they are feeling about a particular topic. This is particularly helpful if the person has dropped hints about a deeper meaning than the actual words he or she is saying.

More Tips for Follow-Up Questions

  • Show interest and encourage the other person to speak by smiling and nodding during the conversation.
  • Keep up-to-date on news, entertainment, and sporting events, so it's easier to ask yes/no and follow-up questions.
  • Interject with statements like "Tell me more" or "Sounds interesting" to encourage the other person.
  • Offer sympathy and support, rather than asking for more details, if someone discloses something personal such as a recent death in the family or a divorce. The person may just want to explain his situation so that you know why he is not acting like himself. Leave it up to him to decide how much to share.
  • Don't be quick to jump in if there is silence. Allow the other person time to respond and don't interrupt.

Genuine Interest

When you first start making small talk, you might just be trying to make yourself and the other person comfortable. That is when there is often quick back and forth of "yes" and "no" type questions.

It is when you start to become genuinely interested in what the other person has to say that the conversation takes a life of its own. So—focus less on getting the details of asking follow-up questions right, and more on becoming genuinely interested in the other person.

A Word From Verywell

Use these tips when you find yourself needing to make small talk with a stranger or someone you don't know well. Remember, even though your socially-anxious self may seek perfection—this shouldn't be your goal. Instead, picture your end goal of making a new friend and see the question-and-answer process as a necessary step in building that friendship.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Leigh E, Clark DM. Understanding social anxiety disorder in adolescents and improving treatment outcomes: Applying the cognitive model of Clark and Wells (1995)Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2018;21(3):388–414. doi:10.1007/s10567-018-0258-5

  2. Weger Jr. H, Castle Bell G, Minei EM, Robinson MC. The relative effectiveness of active listening in initial interactionsInt J List. 2014;28(1):13-31. doi:10.1080/10904018.2013.813234

  3. Huang K, Yeomans M, Brooks AW, Minson J, Gino F. It doesn't hurt to ask: Question-asking increases likingJ Pers Soc Psychol. 2017;113(3):430–452. doi:10.1037/pspi0000097

Additional Reading

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."