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Even if you know how to start a conversation and make it a good one, there's still the issue of choosing what you're going to
talk about. Some topics are inappropriate in some situations, and some are just plain boring. Here are some topics to keep
the conversation alive while keeping your foot out of your mouth.
- Offer a genuine compliment like "I like your shoes" or "You did a fantastic job with that presentation today"
or "I love the way you play the piano." Try to make it a compliment that involves something they did, rather than something
they are, because then you can carry the conversation forward by asking them how they did what they did. E.g. "Where did you
find the shoes?" or "How did you learn to put together such great presentations?" or "Who taught you to play the piano?" If
you tell someone they have beautiful eyes, they can thank you and the conversation ends there.
- Bring up family. Your safest bet here is siblings. Parents can be a touchy subject for people who had troubled
upbringings, have estranged parents, or whose parents have recently passed away. The topic of children can be uncomfortable
for couples who are having fertility issues or disagreements about whether to have children, or for a person who wants to
have kids but hasn't found the right person or situation. So stick with asking about siblings:
- Do you have any siblings? How many?
- What are their names?
- Do you look alike?
- Do you all have similar personalities?
- Who was the favorite?
- You could mention a 2007 study which found that the oldest sibling usually has the highest IQ, but younger siblings
tend to excel in other areas of life, like sports and arts. If you have siblings, you can
say something like "I know that's true/not true for my family when I was growing up, is it true for yours?"
- Ask about their travels. Ask the person where they've been; even if they have never left their home town,
you can always ask where they want to go.
- If you had to permanently relocate to any other country, which one would it be and why?
- Of all the cities in the world you've visited, which one was your favorite?
- Where did you go on your last vacation, and how did you like it?
- What was the worst vacation/trip you ever had?
- Inquire about food and drink. Food is a little better to talk about because there's always the chance of
bumping into someone who has had issues with alcohol abuse, whether they were alcoholics, or they had negative experiences
with an alcoholic. So talk about food. Be careful that the conversation doesn't stray into someone going on and on about their
diet, how they're trying to lose weight, etc. That can take the conversation in a negative direction.
- Ask "If you could only have one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?"
- What's your favorite breakfast food?
- Where do you like to go when you eat out?
- What's the best dish you can cook up?
- What's your favorite kind of candy?
- What's the worst restaurant experience you've ever had?
- Ask about work. This one is especially tricky. Use with care. A date might think you're a gold digger. Or the conversation could end up sounding like a job interview.
Still, if you can handle it carefully and keep it short and sweet (and prevent it from turning into a competition over whose
job or boss is worse) then here are some starters:
- What was your first job ever?
- Who was your favorite boss in the past and why?
- When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
- What do you like best about your job?
- If money was no object, but you still had to work, what would be your dream job?
- Find out about their interests and hobbies. This is where it starts to get more personal. It's up to you to
carry the conversation beyond these questions in an appropriate way. Just always remember to stay positive, ask questions,
- What do you do in your spare time?
- What kind of music do you listen to?
- What kinds of movies do you like to watch?
- What are your favorite TV shows?
- What's your favorite board game or card game?
- Play it safe and don't talk about any of the following:
- Past relationships
- Anything that can be answered with one word
- Illness, bad health
- Unpleasant smells
- Job woes (boredom, bad boss, etc.)
- Specialized interests, unless the other person is fascinated and wants to know about it.
- Dark topics like serial killers and stalkers
- Any negative judgments
- Read up on current events. Read the paper and browse social bookmarking sites for current, interesting stories, but
try to keep away from politics and religion.
- Listen carefully, and try to relate. After someone has answered, relate your own experience to something they mentioned,
or answer the question yourself, even if they don't ask you.
Sources and Citations
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