What do we say when we don't know what to say and we want to make conversation?  A good way to answer this question is to analyze what a conversation is.  We can divide a conversation into statements and questions.   If someone asks us a question we generally know what to say , we say the answer to the question.  If someone makes a statement, we can react by asking a question about the statement that they made or by making a statement of our own with information that is related in some way to the information in the other person's statement.  So their statement is a cue for us on how to respond.  Using another person's statement as a cue as to what to talk about is a recommended method given in the book Conversationally Speaking.  If we want a conversation to continue it's important that we try and give the other person information in our statements so they have something to work with.  

   We can consider a hypothetical conversation to illustrate this point.  My brother told me how a secretary in his office initiated a conversation with him by saying, "I heard you're going on a trip to the Alps".   He said "Yes I am".  She said "That's cool".  He then didn't know what to say and left.  Using the approach above he could have either asked a question or made a statement with relevant information.  A question he could have asked might be "Have you ever been to the Alps?"  A statement with relevant information might have been "I'm really looking forward to it.  The last time I was there I trekked 50 from Basel to Zurich on foot and it was beautiful".  If my brother had made such a statement he would have given the secretary something to respond to.  She could have responded that she too likes walking or talk about her experiences when she was in Zurich etc.. 

   A female friend of mine wanted to talk to a man who was interested in psychology.  She complained to me that she wanted to talk to him but didn't know anything about psychology.   I told her if she doesn't know anything about it she can ask him about it.  You don't have to be an expert in order to show interest.  You can use your knowledge about a person as a cue about what to ask about in addition to what to talk about.

    If you don't know what to say you can try and remember things that you know about the person or that happened to them.  For example if their sister just had a baby or they just got a new job.  All these things make for good conversation topics and show that you have an interest in them. 

   What about starting a conversation with someone you don't know.  Then you have very little to work with since you don't know much about the other person.  One way is to start with an observation such as "What a beautiful day".  Another way is to start with a question.  The question could be something like "Do you know when the next train is" or something non-threatening.  Asking a personal question like where are you from? or what is your name? when you don't know someone may be perceived as threatening by the other person.  I started dating a girl by recommending her one of the cookies at a singles event.  You can't get much less threatening than that.  I remember a fellow talking about his family at a singles event.  Although he wasn't particularly attractive and he was older, a young attractive woman who ignored me asked him for his number.

    Although showing interest in another person is helpful in creating friendships, it's important not to be a walking quiz.  I've met people who keep asking me questions about myself and I am very put off by it.   Initially when you met someone you may have to ask some questions but it's best only to ask what you have to.  Lets imagine we are undergraduates who had summoned up the courage to strike up a conversation with Susan Hotstuff.  If we were quizzers the conversation might go something like:

What's your name?
Sue
What's your major?
English
Where do you live?
The Albright Dorm
Where did you grow up?
Milwaukee
How old are you?

    By  now it's unlikely we would get any more answers to our questions.  Hotstuff is likely to discover an old friend on the other side of the room.  After asking a question it's better to say something.  If you ask "What's your name" and she says Sue it's better say, "I'm Mike, I'm here for the hike to the waterfall" or something other than an immediate question.  Quizzing in general is bad even if it isn't all about the other person.   My girlfriend likes to quiz me and it drives me crazy.  She wants all the latest gossip and keeps asking questions about the latest news about every relative just in case I might have a tidbit of juicy information.  My asking her to stop does no good she keeps on asking.  If you are meeting someone for the first time by yourself you probably will have to ask a few questions in order to find a topic of common interest to talk about.

    There are some questions that are usually not good to ask.  If a person has a foreign accent the natural question to ask is "Where are you from?" but after seeing how many women react to that question I have come to the conclusion that it is not a good question to ask, at least not when you are first meeting.   I think some foreign women want to fit in and pointing out their foreignness is a turn off to them.

    If one has spoken to a person before and meets them and wants to talk to them it's important to try and remember the previous conversation since that will give you subjects to talk about.   If last time the person told you that they were going to the dentist that is a cue for asking them about it.  When you remember what someone told you last time and ask about it, it shows the other person that you are interested and concerned about them.

    It's good to show interest in the other person.   However, one can carry that to far.  A friend of mine once read "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and decided to try and show interest in a person he met in an elevator.  He asked the person about himself and the person reacted with "It's none of your business". 

    If you can say something that will make the other person laugh about the subject that's even better.  According to the book Amazing Flirting Methods and Conversation Techniques the best way to start a conversation is to compliment someone.

    I have a friend who does the compliment thing but I know she's not sincere and I suspect that she is just doing it because she read somewhere that complimenting others will help her get ahead in life.  If one isn't sincere about a compliment one shouldn't make it.  It's a turn off to hear compliments when one things they aren't real.

   It's important not to constantly change the topic and to be a good listener

   If one is trying to hit it off with a woman it's important not to talk about something depressing unless she wants too and even then it might not be a good idea.  It's good not to discuss the current world situation for example.  It's good to talk about something they enjoy talking about.  That could be things that they like to do or people they like.   If you can say things that makes the girl laugh you've really scored.  Don't use negative or dirty humor though.  If the girl you're talking to has fun talking to you she's likely to want to talk to you again.

   One person who has a lot of success with women told the New York Post that his approach is simply to talk about something that he is very interested in.

   Mike Moore in his piece "Confident Conversation" that he wrote for the self help newsletter of selfgrowth.com, wrote

There are three fundamental principles upon which good conversation is based.

   In spite of this final piece of advice I think sometimes it is better to talk about topics of common interest than about the other person. 

   Finally I think there is something more important than what you say which is how you say it.  That comes from your attitude toward the person you are talking too and to yourself.  If you think highly of the person you are talking too and don't worry about how you'll come across and are in a good mood you'll probably make good conversation.

   For a related web page see the confidence web page of this web site.  For a book with help for what to say in dating situations see Date Lines by Nina Atwood.  I haven't read that book yet and since I'm married now I'm unlikely to do so but it appears to be good.

c o p y r i g h t   ( c )   1 9 9 9 -2004 Karl Ericson Enterprises.  All rights reserved

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