The Safest Conversation Starters for Any Social Situation

published Dec 8, 2016
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(Image credit: Adrienne Breaux)

Meeting new people should be a fun experience, but making small talk feels more like a chore than anything. Going to parties, seeing distant family over the holidays, talking to new people at bars—they all can become daunting and super emotionally draining after a while. Sometimes it’s so hard to know what to say, you just don’t want to say anything. And then quiet lulls in conversation—which feel comfortable with people you’re close to, but awkward with those who are practically strangers—take over and make everyone uncomfortable.

Sure, you could just never socialize again (extreme, no?), but wouldn’t you rather learn how to avoid an awkward moment? These 5 conversation topics (as well as our quick guide to topics you should definitely avoid) will help you make the most of any social situation—without ever boringly bringing up the weather. The key to these conversation starters’ success? It’s all about keeping things simple, but thoughtful.

Food and Cooking

Food is usually always a good conversation topic, but it also can be a sensitive one, so you have to be thoughtful and considerate when you talk about it. Avoid bringing up dieting or assigning moral values to food (like talking about eating things that are “good for you” or “healthy” or making jokes about how guilty you feel for eating something “bad”—those can all be highly triggering for some people, and can promote disordered eating patterns). Rather, ask people if they enjoy cooking, if they have a favorite restaurant, or what their favorite dish is—from there, you can bond over shared opinions and experiences and debate things like the best pizza toppings or french fry cuts.

TV, Movies, Music and Books

Everyone has different interests, and sometimes the best thing you can do is get someone talking about the things they care about. Think about it: Have you ever been so impressed by how passionate someone was about something that you didn’t even care it was a topic you never normally would’ve chosen to discuss? Ask thoughtful questions about what kind of music or TV shows people like, what books they’ve read, and what movies they’ve watched recently. One of you is bound to bring up something you can bond over.

Career Moves and Goals

We spend so much of our time at work that it’s an easy thing to talk about, but again, you should be careful how you frame it—some people work very stressful, draining jobs and might end up taking this in a negative direction. Rather than asking about how work is going, which is a common small-talk question, try asking people what they like most about their jobs, how they got into their career, and what they plan to do in the future.

Your Origin Stories

Most people enjoy talking about themselves on some level, and when you ask people about where they’re from or what they’ve done in their lives, it’s easy for them to craft a thoughtful answer because they’ve already lived it. Ask people where they’re from, what their hometown was like, and what their favorite thing about growing up there was—their responses will likely relate to stories and memories you have, and lead to other conversation topics as well.

Hypothetical Questions

When you can’t draw inspiration from your own life—or from theirs—to get the conversation going (or when you just run out of the other questions), try getting creative and asking hypothetical questions. Don’t make them too far-out, but asking things like, “If you could be any animal, what would you choose and why?” or, “If you could travel anywhere right now, where would you go?” gets people thinking and can teach you a lot about their personalities.

Topics to Avoid (at least for now)

These are topics that you eventually might get into with people, depending on your relationship with them, but for friendly conversation—especially with strangers or new acquaintances you don’t really know yet—these should probably not be on your list of things to discuss or comment on:

  • Your political beliefs
  • Your religious beliefs
  • Financial situations
  • Death or anything gruesome
  • People you used to date (especially if you’re on a date)
  • Gossip about people you know
  • Weight gain or loss

And of course, if you’re not sure if something might offend someone, don’t say it—even if you think it’s just a joke.

What are your go-to conversation starters?