This post is an extract from my new kindle book Conversation Ignition – Simple Conversation Starters that Get People Talking which is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
Comfortably Converse With Anyone in Your Circle Of Influence
As unique as all individuals are, we also all have unique “links” to a number of people in our circle of influence. For example, you may not wish to talk about exactly the same topics with your close friends as you do with your family, neighbors, community members, acquaintances, coworkers, or new folks that you meet in social situations.
So now it’s time to look at starting conversations with the various sectors/groups or genres, if you prefer, of your circle of influence, and hopefully you’ll continue growing more comfortable each step of the way as you practice, practice, practice.
Conversation Starters for Friends You See Infrequently
There are some obvious choices here, such as, “How’ve you been?” or “What have you been up to lately?” If you have several mutual friends in common, some of whom you do stay in touch with more frequently, you can always open with, “I saw/talked with _________ not too long ago, and heard that your brother got engaged!” or something along those lines. This lets the less frequently visited friend know you’re still interested in what’s going on in their life, but prefer to get the details from them. You can certainly begin with an update on your own status as an icebreaker – “I got a new job a couple of years ago in _____________ (field of endeavor) and I really love it. Are you still working in _______________?”
Other safe topics include travel, vacations since you’ve last met/talked, updates on family members and those lovely mutual friends. Once you get back on track and feeling like you’ve picked up exactly wherever it was that you left off, then you can get into more meaty topics and thorough details, if you like. If you prefer to keep it lighter, talk about entertainment, sports – things you know that you’re mutually interested in. It’s just good manners to start things off by catching up, though, and showing a real personal interest rather than launching into too much small talk. It depends upon how close you have been/still want to be with each individual. Enjoy!
Talking with Good Friends
This includes the ones you do see regularly, so by and large, initiating and participating in conversation with those who fit into this category should be a no-brainer. Bring up topics you know they love talking about, or pick up where you last left off with any relationship, career or other life issue updates. If they are really what you consider a “good friend,” odds are you never have much trouble talking as a rule; at least not that often. You can always resort to the standard “safe” topics, depending on your relationship with them. However often with close friends, it’s perfectly fine to talk about religion or politics – two subjects that are generally “taboo” with folks you don’t know all that well.
Hopefully, anyone you categorize as a “good” or “close” friend is someone with whom you can discuss and share anything. So go for it!
Chatting with Family Members
Again, the level at which you converse with your family members depends upon your relationship with each one. Most people have a favorite sibling or cousin, and then there are others with whom you don’t interact that much – either by choice, or else that’s just the way it is.
Still, we tend to know something about our family members and their interests, immediate family members (kids, parents, etc), and so that’s always a polite as well as easy place to start. Such as, “Hey, I just got back from visiting Grandma in Florida a few months ago. She’s doing really well. Do you get to talk to her much?”
If you have children, you can always pull out the photos, or if your family member has kids, ask to see the most recent pics. This is always a great icebreaker. Same with pets, or if they’re avid about traveling or really any particular topic and may have photos, ask away. It will help you both get into a comfortable groove quickly.
What about your cousin Ichabod whom you have (and for good reason) avoided like the plague for years? What happens when you see him at a family reunion, for example? Well, either be prepared to endure his boring harangue about something you’d really prefer to never hear about (if that’s why you’ve avoided him all this time), or just walk by quickly, maybe give him a quick slap on the shoulder and say, “How you doing, Ich?” and keep going, maintaining eye contact with a family member you genuinely click with who’s just beyond where good ol’ Ichabod is standing. Just because you’re related to someone doesn’t mean you’re going to like every person in your family tree. And truly, that’s okay. Do your best to be polite and courteous, but don’t let yourself get roped into a long conversation that’s going to be uncomfortable and/or boring. Move on!
Talking to Neighbors
“Howdy, Neighbor!” People were more apt to connect frequently with their neighbors a few decades ago than they are nowadays, but it’s always a good idea to cultivate at least a friendly acquaintance with a few of your neighbors. After all, at one time or another you may, or they may need someone to pet sit, keep an eye on the house while away on vacation, and just keep a sort of “neighborhood watch” going for the safety of all on your block. Striking up conversation with neighbors is not all that different from talking with others in your circle of influence.
One thing to remember is that neighbors always like to talk about anything that’s been going on down the street, or nearby. Not just gossip, but observation – for instance, “Hey, I see your next door neighbor had a new roof put on last week. I need to do that soon, myself. Do you happen to know what contractor they used?” Commenting on any home improvement they themselves have made is always a great way to get the conversation up and running. Compliments are always excellent icebreakers, so if they got a new vehicle recently, you could say, “I really like the lines on your new car, Dave!” Opening with something that has a personal flavor is a good way to branch out into other topics.
You may be fortunate enough to have a neighbor or two that you count among your good friends. If that’s the case, then any common interests you share, or topics which you already know they are enthusiastic about are good choices of conversation, just as with friends.
If you’re at a community meeting, such as a town council meeting or event, you can begin with a generalized comment, such as, “It’s great to see so many people in attendance,” or “I’ve been waiting for the community members to join together on this issue – glad to see it happening!” If you get some positive feedback/reciprocal input, then you can move onto other topics, but after all – if you’re all there for a common cause or to enjoy a town event, there’s really nothing more logical than at least touching upon the reason you’re there first. Then you can let the conversation take off in whatever directions are most natural and comfortable.
Talking with Acquaintances
Here’s one place that an excellent memory can really serve you well – when you run into someone whose acquaintance you’ve made before, but haven’t really had the chance to learn much about their interests, hobbies, or life in general. If you can remember one key thing that came up last time you saw them and ask for an update, it will be a good testament to what a great listener you are. For instance, “Hi, Harry! Great to see you again. Last time I saw you, I believe you mentioned your son was about to graduate high school. Is he working, or in college now?” or maybe, “I seem to recall you had a lovely German shepherd with you last time we met. How’s your dog doing?”
Any little tidbit like that really impresses people. So if you don’t have a good memory for such minor incidents, then now is the time to start cultivating it. Try associating something specific about the acquaintance to their name that will help you bring the factoid back up to the surface next time you run into them at the supermarket, block party, or wherever it may be.
For example, you could commit to memory, “His name’s Bill Miller and he drives a Corolla…” then shorten it to just, “Bill’s Corolla” If you really apply a bit of dedicated practice to committing details to memory, you’ll find you get good at it. Again – keep practicing! The better your memory, the easier the conversation gets going, and the more likely you may be able to turn the “acquaintance” into a “friend.”
Office or Work Talk
Whether you hang out around the water cooler, in the employee lounge or the cafeteria, exchanging pleasantries with coworkers is a good practice to master. This involves avoiding office gossip – all that does is eventually make you a pariah. This means even not listening when other people are “dishing the dirt” about a boss, coworker or other staff member to avoid giveing the impression that you are interested in it, and not above continuing to spread the gossip. It’s much more empowering to walk away from it, or if you’re comfortable doing so, try changing the subject, perhaps by saying, “Did anyone see the premier of _______________ on TV last night?” Then give a brief opinion on it. You can mention sports or other recent news, the weather – whatever you like. Even if no one takes the hint and quits gossiping, then definitely you are doing yourself and certainly the subject(s) of the gossip a huge favor. Have some integrity, and maintain your professionalism. People will remember that, too.
As far as small talk or telling a lot of jokes with coworkers, do your best to keep that to a minimum, too. Smile, be pleasant, and certainly engage in conversation now and then, but never so much so that it detracts your energy and attention away from your work. Better to make plans with like-minded coworkers to meet up for some activity after work, or to have lunch together now and again. It’s way too easy to fall into a pattern of frittering your time away by being too much of a chatterbox, and whether it seems like it or not in the moment, someone is bound to be noticing that you’re not staying focused on your job. So the key rule here is “be friendly, but always stay professional.”
New People in Social Situations
This aspect of mastering the art of conversation starters has already been addressed a little in the previous chapters, and will be delved into in more detail in the pages which follow. The main point is to get in plenty of practice, and you’ll notice your confidence and abilities grow and improve.
This post is an extract from my book Conversation Ignition – Simple Conversation Starters that Get People Talking available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.