Giving good conversation

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Post by Caffeinated on Sat Jul 18, 2015 3:48 pm

I just ran across this set of TED talks and wanted to share them: http://blog.ted.com/9-ted-talks-to-inspire-smart-conversation/

When meeting people, it's so important to be able to have good conversations, but if you're like me it's hard. A lot of times with new people I freeze and can't think of anything to say. I sometimes actually rehearse some conversation-starters before I go to a gathering or event, so I'll be ready to deploy them instead of freezing up.

What conversation questions and starters have you used? Any techniques and recommendations? Where do you look for topics that would be good to talk about in a gathering?
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Post by BasedBuzzed on Sat Jul 18, 2015 3:58 pm

Recent news items, pets/vacations/hobbies/recent jokes you've heard, anything I can use to gauge whether people are actually interested in a conversation. If they stick into polite small-talk mode, I just move on. Having a conversation take two people, and if they don't like what I'm offering in the range of neutral things, it's not worth the effort.

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Post by eselle28 on Sat Jul 18, 2015 4:29 pm

I've found that one of the easiest starting points is asking people what they did over the weekend. It's bland, but if the other person is trying to participate at all, I'll have a handful of things that I can follow up on. I try to stick with things I can expand on with some degree of passion, like pets and travel and football, or things I wouldn't mind learning more about, like gardening and crafts.

If someone mentions media of some sort, I sometimes ask them if they'd recommend what they recently watched or read, or find another way to structure asking for a recommendation. Many people enjoy giving them, plus, it gives me some insight into what they care about.

If you know absolutely nothing about the other person and aren't sure if you have much in common, a good safe topic is local news. It tends to be a little less tilted toward partisan politics, and those discussions can build some rapport in a way that lets you move to areas where you may have fewer commonalities. There's a reason the weather, the ultimate in neutral local topics, is a standby when you really don't know what to say.
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Post by Enail on Sat Jul 18, 2015 4:36 pm

Oh, local news is a good one and usually safe (assuming you are aware of any possible major political divides on the local level. You'd be surprised at how controversial "let's hope our new mayor doesn't smoke crack" can be Razz). It's not necessarily the most interesting in itself for longer than a short conversation but it does tend to provide a bunch of openings to other things. I've had good mileage talking about library/community projects like those things where everyone's supposed to read the same book; even if the person isn't a reader, they probably have an opinion on the book choice or the concept.
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Post by eselle28 on Sat Jul 18, 2015 4:48 pm

I'm trying to imagine that mayoral conversation. I'm failing to come up with anything plausible, but everything I can think of is hilarious.

But, yes, community book-reading projects are a good one. Even someone who has very little interest in books will probably be able to reply that a friend or relative participates in it. This is sort of specific to either smaller towns or very large cities where people have strong neighborhood identification, but mentioning a new business in the area is a good opening. It can often be done in a way that doesn't necessarily indicate your own feelings if you're uncertain how well-received it is. Even negative opinions like "Sushi's not really my thing" or "I really like the coffee shop two doors down, and I kind of feel loyal to them" or "Sigh, yes, I heard we were getting a multiplex. I still remember the old independent theater, so it's a bit sad for me" can lead to conversation and connection. Positive ones can lead to asking if they've been there yet or, if you really want to get to know them better, suggesting you try it out sometime.
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Post by Enail on Sat Jul 18, 2015 5:02 pm

He was extremely popular with some of the suburbs, even after all the...everything, so you had to basically check peoples' area codes before bringing it up. It would have been funny if we weren't genuinely scared we were going to land up with him for a second term, which made it a bit of a laugh till you cry situation. /tangent

Oh yeah, the new business in the area is a good one. I think it could work in medium-sized or less neighbourhood-oriented large places if you talk about general trends rather than specific stores (so many Starbucks' opening lately, did you hear that the last old-school record shop is closing? etc.)
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Post by reboot on Sat Jul 18, 2015 5:25 pm

I do a lot of how long people have lived wherever we are, favorite restaurants, favorite places to go which tends to lead to other places they have lived or that I have lived for a bit of compare and contrast. I also will ask if people have been to or tried activities/places I am interested in doing/going. Weekend activities or any past or upcoming holidays are also good topics.
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Post by Perlandra on Sat Jul 18, 2015 8:15 pm

In addition to the suggestions other people have mentioned, I frequently give a compliment, but only if it's sincere and about something that actually caught my eye. Ties, jewelry, shoes, etc. usually work well. Mentioning my hobbies usually gets some interest, and I sometimes show them a couple of pics on my cell phone. I agree that "what did you do for holiday/last weekend?" usually is a good approach.

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Post by Wondering on Sat Jul 18, 2015 8:29 pm

I talk about travel, traffic, TV/movies, weather, food/cooking, pet, or baby in general, but usually, I talk about things specific to the location we are. So, if it's an office party, I talk about the food being served or the view from the venue or how hard it was to find parking there or something I know we're going to have in common to talk about as a start. That usually leads to other discussions.

Like, "Traffic getting here was awful, wasn't it? It would be so great if we had a subway system like the Tube in London." That gives them an opening to say if they've been to London or another city with a subway or how they think our traffic isn't actually that bad or lots of other threads of conversation.

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Post by Jayce on Tue Jul 21, 2015 12:54 am

I like to talk about the things I'm curious about, I also like to give what I call "conversation hooks" whenever I can which are potential lead ins to continually flow the conversation, example if someone asks about my hobbies I'll talk about several of them, it gives them more material for things to talk about.

Also I've noticed its important to notice whether someone is collaborating with you or not in conversations. I talked to a condescending person at a party last week. They just shut down my conversation opportunities at every turn. In addition when it comes to strangers a lack of familiarity might be a barrier to effective conversations so sometimes its effective to have easy things to talk about such as things about them/things they do instead of something like weather, movies. Sometimes when I talk to people I don't know, they seem to be less open to talk, or maybe they feel nervous? I don't notice other people feeling nervous or shy a lot because I keep having this idea in my head that it only applies to me and everyone else are perfect conversationalists, masters at social skills. I didn't notice this might be a thing until a guy at a party apologised to me for not being very socially experienced afterwards, because earlier that night I was talking to him (well I thought everything was normal, but apparently he thought he was awkward).

I've also had some failings other conversational failings. Once I was talking with someone that I was not familiar with, and she opened up to me (it was the second time we met) about being jealous of her friend who has more friends and is more outgoing than her. I just said in response "really? Oh I never noticed that". I think that was an ineffective response on my part because I kind of just ignored her vulnerability. I didn't mean to not be comforting or supportive, I was just caught off guard that someone that I don't know that well would talk about those things with me, and since I don't feel jealous of her friend at all I thought it was quite a revelation. Maybe a more appropriate response would be one that is supportive or comforting.

There was also another time where a guy and I were talking and he said don't you reckon "Y" is really hot tonight? And I honestly responded, oh she's not my type. I guess in that situation I kind of shut him down there since I think he was looking for affirmation that I thought she was attractive as well, so his feelings of attraction were deemed "acceptable" by other guys? If that's a thing? Maybe a more appropriate response there would have been oh hey, you're attracted to her, are you planning to flirt with her?

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