“So, what should I talk about?”
When it comes to conversations I think this is one question we have asked both others and ourselves many, many times.
Often in our heads, when already in a conversation, with an awkward silence looming and while trying to scramble for something to say.
That’s not an entirely bad place to be though. Pauses in conversations are natural and it’s good to get used to the social pressure of a conversation gone quiet.
However, if you too often run into silences, if they have a tendency to go on for a little bit too long then it’s always good to have few pointers stored at the back of your mind. Here are 5 great things to talk about. And a little bit further down, 5 things you should probably try to avoid talking about.
1. The person you are talking to
For many the favourite subject to talk about is themselves. Be curious about people and who they are. As Dale Carnegie said:
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. Which is just another way of saying that the way to make a friend is to be one.”
Figure out what the other person does besides work. What s/he really likes, passions and things that brings out the enthusiasm. Ask and use open-ended questions so s/he can’t just answer with a one-word answer. If you just get hmms and vague answers out of open-ended questions try leading questions. And try to actually listen instead of just waiting for you turn to talk. Focus outward instead of inward to improve a conversation.
Talk about what the other person really likes. It generally makes for more fun and compelling conversations to hear and see the enthusiastic and passionate part of a person than if you both stick to talking about the weather and work. And don’t worry about getting stuck in listening-mode. Most people will be glad to reciprocate and be interested in you if you are interested in them.
2. Your surroundings
It’s easy to become too focused on just one thing in a conversation. Widen your focus a bit, look around. There is always interesting stuff in your surroundings to start a conversation about. For example, at a party or a dinner in someone’s house it might be the fishes in the aquarium, the record collection, books and movies on the shelves, some cool piece of clothing someone is wearing and so on.
3. The news and water cooler topics
Keep an eye on the papers, there is almost always something interesting there to bring up in a conversation. Fascinating or funny topics are always good. Bringing up death, misery and controversial topics might not always be a great idea.
Besides the news there are always water cooler-topics to discuss. These often make for fun discussion. Such topics might be the latest episode of Lost or Prison Break, something big and brand new (in Sweden a big water cooler topic a while back was our first astronaut in space; Christer Fuglesang), which of the summer blockbusters that are actually good or some new, spectacular band.
It might be useful to quickly browse social bookmarking-sites like Digg and Reddit to find some of the things everyone seems to be talking about right now. And to discover a few fascinating new stories or trends.
4. Likes and dislikes
A classic. People always like to discuss their likes and dislikes. Some examples:
- Favourite songs/albums.
- Favourite movies/TV-shows.
- The nastiest tasting piece of candy/food you have eaten.
- Best/worst GTD software.
- The best vacation ever vs. the worst one.
- The best or worst job/boss/co-worker you’ve ever had.
5. Relatable emotions and experiences
This topic might seem a little fuzzy. In a way, it’s another way to look at some of the above topics. I think it’s a useful perspective to keep in mind though.
What I mean by this is what you share in the conversation is not the facts. What you share are experiences and emotions. The underlying excitement and the emotions that we all share regardless what we do.
One example might be how you discover that the other person loves travelling. So you ask: what is it about travelling that you like so much? S/he might say the excitement of discovering something new, something s/he’s never seen before. And maybe you have similar feelings about travelling too. So you might say something like: Yeah, I know, itÂ´s great when you have that fresh, totally new experience.
But you donÂ´t have to be a enthusiastic traveller to relate. Perhaps you love books or movies. And then you can relate to how each time you discover and new author or great movie itÂ´s like travelling into a totally new and exciting world where you never know what you will find.
So you can share similar feelings and experiences even though you might not seem similar as people. You may seem very different to one another, live different lives, but there are often connections to be made between you.
There are several powerful motivators and needs behind and in conversations and communication. One is to boost one’s ego. Something that can be done, for example, by using topic #1. Another is the feeling of connecting and sharing. Something you can do by using topic.
Five Potentially Awful Topics to Talk About
So, what topics should you avoid? None, really. But some topics are perhaps are only suited for some conversations. Maybe with close friends or family.
Some topics can get out of hand. You might need to limit the amount of time you talk about them. When people’s eyes are starting to glaze over, when people are starting to look around in the room and stop listening it’s time to change the subject.
Don’t suck the fun and positive energy of conversations. Think before you talk when the subjects below are on your mind.
- Illness. No-one wants to hear too much about illness and bad health. It’s a downer. And people in general don’t want to reflect too much on things like: “Hmm, I wonder when I’ll get sick and how that will be”. It can put anyone in a sad and negative emotional state.
- Your crappy boss, job etc. It’s no fun hearing someone harp on and on about how unfair their boss is or how much their job suck. Complaining becomes draining to listen to rather quickly. Try to keep your complaining down or if you can just stop it all together.
- Your boring job. If it’s a fascinating job then it might be interesting to talk about. If you’re enthusiastic about your job and really love then it can be fascinating to talk about it. If it’s just a job you’re not too fond of or a boring one try to limit the time you talk about it. If you like it but people don’t seem to be interested either drop it or find a way to improve how you talk about your job. No one wants to listen for too long to a topic they have no interest in.
- Hard to relate to hobbies and similar subjects. Well, actually getting technical and talking too much about the content of the hobby rather than what excites you about it. Try to avoid technical jargon, acronyms and details that only you and other enthusiasts understand. Try to keep it simple and understandable instead. Try topic #6 above: Relatable emotions and experiences. Try to relate what excites you about your bicycling or recycling instead of getting lost in facts and details.
- Serial killers and other creepy subjects. An obvious one. Just like talking about illness talking about Jeffrey Dahmer, stalkers and similar subjects can make people really uncomfortable.
If you are interested in more tips and pointers on improving your conversation/people skills here are a few other articles I’ve written on those subjects: