“I forgot how to fit into society.“”I have lost the ability to make small talk.“”I don’t like big parties anymore.“I have heard several versions of this statement many times over the past year. In fact, I think I speak all of this myself over the past few months. As people return to gatherings, events, and even offices after a year of social disruption, awkwardness ensues. And that makes me wonder: are our social skills really “unpractical?” Or has the forced Covid pause allowed us to re-prioritize how we want to spend our time – and perhaps “small chat with strangers at parties” hasn’t made it to our list?
For me, shallow conversations are even shallower, and my tolerance for negative energy is also diminishing. On the other hand, I find myself craving soul-nourishing conversations that make me feel more alive and fulfilled than ever. Those things usually happen when I’m with close family and friends, but I’ve discovered that something special happens when I open up to someone new.
Discovering shared similarities with a stranger, or discovering a spirit of kindness in an acquaintance, each holds its own kind of magic. It reminds me that people and relationships can the the most exciting moments in the adventure of our life.
So how can we cultivate more those, that types of conversations, whether we’re at a dinner party, a networking event, or having lunch with a group of friends? It starts with the intent we bring to the experience – if we dig deep into looking for the real connection and the hole, we’ll usually find it. We can approach each interaction with genuine curiosity making others feel seen, heard, and appreciated. In this space, conversation comes naturally… but I also wanted to get into it with some great conversation starters.
Set connection intent.
The difference between the conversation that feeds your soul and the conversation that leaves you feeling empty is often determined by each person’s level of presence in the experience. Distractions like looking at your phone or having thoughts that are not clear to you are an automatic barrier to connection. But when both of them show up in full? It was a completely different experience.
I like to use the transition between activities as a moment to set the tone for the conversation I’m about to have. The next time you’re about to meet a friend or walk into an event, take a minute to calm yourself before stepping out of the car. Take a deep breath and visualize the type of person you want to be in that conversation. By reminding myself to bring curiosity and presence to a conversation, I can be my best self.
Get context about the other person.
I’m going to tell you about a little conversation I’ve never shared before. First of all, you should know that I have a terrible memory, which sometimes creates connections with friends I haven’t met during a challenging time – most likely I have forgotten half of what they are. told me when I met them a few months ago! So here’s what I do:
After meeting up with a friend or anyone I want to build a friendship with, I pull up Evernote and write down anything they’ve shared that I’d like to remember and ask them about upcoming trips that I would like to take. They will join, personal or professional challenges, details about their family members. It’s usually just quick bullet points to jot down my memory. Then the next time I schedule something with them, I search my Evernote files for their names, and boom: I can join that experience with the people who started the conversation. great ideas for things to ask them.
Consider what you want to share – and what you don’t.
You know that feeling when you share too much, gossip, or inadvertently talk about yourself all the time? I call it a social infatuation, and it’s the worst. To avoid that feeling as much as possible, I want to think about some things to share about my own life before a conversation and also consider if something is going on with me. do not want to bring up. This is useful in a few ways:
- Thinking about what I do and don’t want to share with a particular person challenges me to think about how close I am to them. If it’s someone I want to build intimacy with, I might be intentionally a little more vulnerable. However, if it’s someone I don’t fully trust or don’t want to get closer to, I can avoid topics I’ll later regret. Remember – people earn your trust through words and nonverbal cues, and you don’t have to be vulnerable to everyone in your orbit.
- If I attend an event with Adam, we can get in touch in advance about anything either of us doesn’t want to share with the group. That way we don’t have to face any awkward moments where one partner is clearly uncomfortable while the other has a “funny story” and we can respect our boundaries. each other’s gender while remaining as open and vulnerable as possible.
Okay, now that we’ve laid the groundwork, how do you spice up a conversation? Talk about party conversation starters to spark a deeper connection…
The person who initiates an intimate conversation
Why is it that sometimes, a dinner date with your best friend, your partner or your mom can make you feel more connected, while other times it makes you feel uncomfortable? It often depends on how well both of you show presence, practice active listening, and ask good questions. Here are some questions that can act as insightful conversation starters for couples, close friends, or family members.
- What was your highlight of the week?
- What is the best gift you have ever received?
- When you were a kid, what do you think your life would be like now?
- What is your love language – or – how do you like to show love?
- What is your favorite memory of us together?
- What’s new you want to try this year?
- What was your first job? How do you like it?
- If you could travel back in time, where would you go?
The person who started the conversation at the dinner party
I like to start a lively, fun dinner party conversation by thinking through a few questions in advance. This practice has led to some of the most joyful memories when around a table! Once you’ve come up with your questions, you can bring them out in the group when the conversation is quiet, or you can write them down on paper to hide under the guest’s plate. Once everyone is seated and the time is right, you can ask a random guest to pull out their question and present it to the group.
- What is your biggest fear?
- If you were going to open a restaurant, what would the concept be?
- What was the strangest thing you believed as a child?
- When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grow up?
- If a movie was made about your life, who would play you?
- What’s your biggest fashion dummy ever?
- Share your most embarrassing moment.
- Who is the most famous person you have ever met?
- What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
- If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
The person who initiates a conversation with a stranger
These questions are great if you have something on hand when going to events where you might not know a lot of people (like weddings or networking events), or even for casual conversations that pop up. at a coffee shop or in line at the grocery store. A collection of conversation starters at a party will not only make you a more interesting person, but they will lead to unexpected interesting types of conversation and truly the spice of life.
- Working on anything interesting recently?
- Have you tried any new restaurants recently?
- What’s your favorite place you’ve ever visited?
- So, what’s your story?
- Tell me about you.
- Are you a morning person or an evening person?
- If you had to eat one type of food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
- How do you know the servers?
- For couples: how did the two of you meet?
- Have you been to this event before?
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard?
- Are you having a good time? (aka a great alternative to the bland, “How are you?”)